The History of the Hero: Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dress

diane von furstenberg wrap dress
The History of the Hero: DVF's wrap dressGetty Images

Few designs are so versatile that they catch the eye of everyone from Michelle Obama and Amy Winehouse to Madonna and the Princess of Wales. But that is what is so special about Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress, a piece of clothing that will truly go down in fashion history. "That one little dress has taught me everything I know about fashion, life, women, and confidence,” she famously said of her invention, which is now 50 years old.

The dress was one of the very first pieces of clothing that von Furstenberg designed, and it was almost by chance that she fell into the fashion industry at all. In 1968, Diane Haflin, as she was then known, began working as assistant to a photographers’ agent in Paris, where she became acquainted with various people working in the industry. This included Angelo Ferretti, who invited her to his textile factory in Italy, where she discovered the jersey fabric that she would use for her dresses and was where she learnt about the technical aspects of dress design.

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The wrap dress on the catwalk in 1973Fairchild Archive - Getty Images

When she moved to America with her new husband, Prince Egon von Furstenberg, she had already made some prototypes and, after impressing the likes of fashion editor Diana Vreeland with them, set up a showroom in the Gotham Hotel in New York, where she showed her very first collection of jersey dresses. Shortly after, in 1972, she set up her namesake label.

The now iconic printed jersey dress officially debuted in September 1973 and found immediate success. The super comfortable and flattering design – which von Furstenberg had created as an alternative to a suit – was a huge hit with the American working women of the 1970s. “It was a basic uniform for work and a signature of independence and liberation,” writes Nicolas Lor in Diane von Furstenberg: Woman Before Fashion. “This free and independent state of mind would never leave her; it has continued to inhabit her personality and career to this day.”

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Jerry Hall wearing the wrap dress on the catwalk in 1975WWD - Getty Images

Described by the designer as “the perfect dress to seduce a man and please his mother,” the wrap dress was not only versatile in terms of where it could be worn but it was designed to be flattering for all body types, as well as comfortable and practical. The dress was both easy to style (because of how it wraps around the body without any formal fastening) and easy to pack – it was lightweight, machine washable and wrinkle proof. Basically, it was a godsend for women leading busy lives.

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Kate wearing the wrap dress in 2014Samir Hussein - Getty Images

The dress was partly inspired by the wraparound tops that ballerinas wore and was actually introduced in top form by von Furstenberg in her very first collection in 1970 with a matching skirt. After seeing one of her customers wearing them together, she converted the style into a dress, and history was made.

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Karlie Kloss wearing the wrap dress during a DVF presentation in 2016Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images

The wrap dress was wildly popular in the 1970s, but has also had its moments again and again over the years. In 1997, von Furstenberg relaunched her label and by 1999, sales of her wrap dresses exceeded $20 million. Over the years, versions of the wrap dress have been worn by many of the most famous women in the world. The list includes; Kate, the Princess of Wales, Michelle Obama, Amy Winehouse, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Paris Hilton, Jerry Hall and Kendall Jenner, while the style has also appeared on screen countless times, including on Amy Adams in American Hustle, on Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver and on Felicity Jones in On The Basis Of Sex.

“It’s more than a dress, it’s a spirit,” says von Furstenberg of her iconic design, which gave women ease and independence 50 years ago, and continues to do so to this day.

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