Diane von Furstenberg: The Key to
Success Is Trusting Yourself
APRIL 30, 2015
By ADAM BRYANT
This interview with Diane von Furstenberg, the fashion designer, was
conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Q. You’ve said many times that your mother was your biggest
influence. What are the most important lessons you learned from
A. My mother was a Holocaust survivor and, having survived 13 months
in the concentration camps, she taught me that fear is not an option. And no
matter what happens, never be a victim. Life is a journey, and when you face
obstacles the only thing you can do is accept them and embrace the reality.
Very often, with things that are bad or not what you wanted, it’s your job to
turn them into something positive.
The next big lesson I learned for myself, very early in life, is that I realized
that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. If you
figure that out, every other relationship is a plus and not a must.
How has your leadership style evolved?
I don’t think I have ever learned how to manage people. I was a young girl
who came to America and lived an American dream. I became an entrepreneur
and a founder and had a big business at a very early age, and so I never
learned about it. I always used my instinct, which is probably my biggest
quality and my biggest fault.
I am not a good C.E.O., but I have the passion and the force of a founder,
and therefore I can make things happen. I can inspire people and motivate
How do you get the best work out of creative teams on your
I think the most important thing is to believe in what you do. And
identifying a goal, to have clarity, is very important. You cannot fake clarity.
When you don’t have clarity, you don’t. And then all of a sudden, the fog lifts
and you’re clear. It’s very important to constantly try to look for clarity, like
pruning a tree or cleaning the plumbing.
How do you hire? What qualities do you look for?
For me, the most important things are somebody who’s honest, not
pretentious, not a faker. But you never know. You make so many mistakes. But
again, life is a journey. It’s like a train. The landscape changes. People come in,
people leave. It’s the life of a person, it’s the life of a business.
What questions do you ask?
It depends what kind of a job it is. My problem is that when I interview
somebody, I talk too much. That is something that I shouldn’t do. You should
listen, and you should listen to what the person says. I try to basically ask them
why they think this is a good job for them. Usually when you understand why
it’s a good fit for them, then you can identify if it’s a good fit for you.
What career and life advice do you give to new college
I tell them that the most important thing you can do is to do something
you like and be sure that you’re true to yourself. The worst thing in life is doing
something because you think that somebody wants you to do it. At least if you
do things because you think you should do them, then it’s O.K. if you make a
mistake. It’s easier to swallow because it was your decision.
You’ve had such a roller coaster life of great successes, as well
as some pretty dark times. How did you manage through all that?
I’m still managing through it. First of all, let’s talk about success. I lived
an American dream. I was very lucky because I was very successful at 25 years
old. Now it’s very common for that to happen in Silicon Valley. But at the time,
it was not so common, and I was a woman and I was very young.
So the first thing that success gives you is financial independence. That’s
great. The second thing that success gives you is a voice. You have a voice. All
of a sudden, people listen to you, pay attention to what you say. And what I
feel is that if you acquire that, it’s your duty, responsibility and also privilege to
use that voice for people who have no voice. That’s my description of success.
Now we go to failure. What does failure mean? You didn’t make it? So you
didn’t make it. But by not making it, maybe you learned something else.
America is a society where you always have a chance and where you can always
make a comeback. So I would say that failure sometimes could be your biggest
You’ve talked a lot over the years about how your brand is
about helping women feel confident. That word also comes up a lot
in discussions about women and leadership, and that many women
feel less selfassured than men. What is your take on that?
I don’t think confidence has anything to do with gender. To be confident
or secure has nothing to do with gender. Can you fake being confident? No.
That’s the worst because then you look like an idiot. You have to trust yourself.
That’s the most important thing. In order to trust yourself, you have to have a
relationship with yourself. In order to have a relationship with yourself, you
have to be hard on yourself, and not be delusional. It all goes back to the same
Do you think that the constant tug of our computers and
smartphones makes it harder for people to create space to build
that relationship with themselves?
No. I think the relationship you have with yourself is everywhere, every
moment of the day — to be able to be alone, to be able to think, to be able to
count on yourself, to be able to console yourself, to be able to inspire yourself,
to be able to give yourself advice. You are your best friend.