Daughter of refugees Diane von Furstenberg brings DVF Awards to Paris, fetes feminism and welcomes Amal
“Covid has put women back 35 years. It has sent millions of them back to the home. It’s that simple,” insisted Diane von Furstenberg, designer, path-breaking entrepreneur and daughter of two refugee parents, at the latest DVF Awards ceremony, created in tandem with the Women’s Forum, and staged for the first time in Paris on Wednesday night.
“The first time I really felt free is when my mother let me take the train from Brussels all by myself as a nine-year-old to Paris where my aunt had a very elegant shop in Paris. It was the first time I felt free. It’s the city that turned me into a feminist,” noted the Belgian-born von Furstenberg, in conversation with Fashion Network.
Staged in the gilded setting of the Palais Garnier, Paris’ greatest opera house, five women of unique character received DVF 2021 awards. From Diane’s adopted country America, CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward and philanthropist, businesswoman Melinda French Gates, receiving the Inspiration Award and Lifetime Leadership Award respectively.
In a month dominated by images of suffering refugees and climatic destruction, the latter barely restrained by last weekend’s COP26 accord, Rohingyan refugee Wai Wai Nu of Burma and climate activist Vanessa Nakate of Uganda were also honored with DVF Awards. As was Dr Rouba Mhaissen, a Syrian/Lebanese activist and advocate living in Lebanon, who founded Sawa for Development Aid, providing aid to Syrian refugees for over a decade, since the first 40 families fled that country’s civil war. Each of the winners received $50,000.
“When billions of dollars are needed to help reduce emissions in the climate crisis, a grant of $50,000 may not seem much. But this money will be nothing less than transformational to our Rise Up Climate Movement in Uganda, helping to fund access to lighting with solar panels and supply eco-friendly cooking stoves to feed children in schools. It will help bring electricity and clean cooking to 21 schools, teaching 8,000 children, and reducing emissions and improving air quality,” explained Natake.
Of late, DVF’s fashion business has struggled. Last year, she shuttered flagships in London and Paris, and laid off several hundred staffers in New York, as the label shifted to being a digital brand and focusing on China, where it still has some 60 boutiques.
However, von Furstenberg remains a veritable force of nature. She even convinced over a dozen powerful women to participate in a joint video homage to the most powerful female in the world these past 16 years, Chancellor Angela Merkel. DVF’s roundup - Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Jacinda Arden, Sophie Wilmes, Nancy Pelosi, Barbra Streisand, Katrin Jakobsdottir, Nadia Murad, Amy Kobuchar, Gloria Steinem, Samantha Power, Friede Springer, Marlène Schiappa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Christine Lagarde.
Lagarde, the first woman president of the European Central Bank; author Leïla Slimani; and Franco-Colombian anti-corruption senator Ingrid Betancourt presented awards. While DVF gave one to Gates via a video link-up.
Von Furstenberg began the awards back in 2010. This marked the 12th DVF Awards, the last was held pre-covid in 2020 in Washington DC, honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Iman.
Speaking of her French connection, von Furstenberg commented: “This is the country of the great Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Veil. I just saw a beautiful play about her on Saturday night. Simone Veil had very much the same story as my mother. They were in Auschwitz at the same time, my mother was 21, Simone Veil was 16; and they did the death marches too. There’s a beautiful tradition of feminism here in France, and French fashion. Elle was way ahead of its time, with great women editor-in-chiefs; Marie Claire was a very feminist magazine. So, I would say that my first contact with feminism was in France.”
Weil was a French magistrate and politician who was President of the European Parliament, the first woman to hold that office.
Turning to a new generation of feminist French writers, Diane praised Le Consentement, where writer Vanessa Springora denounces the pedophile and celebrated author Gabriel Matzneff, who sexually exploited her when she was just 14. A novel helping to bring an end to a half century of apathy in France’s literary world.
“I have read all of these books, and I loved them. And I remember that there’s no question when I was a young girl… about speaking out. I mean it was considered so normal. So, you know, this movement is very good.”
Asked in terms of women's empowerment, if she could snap her fingers to bring instant change to the status of women tomorrow, what would she want that to be?
“I would want women to be equal. But I need a lot of fingers to snap,” von Furstenberg laughed.
DVF's other key guest was the world’s most famous puppet - Little Amal, the 3.5-meter-high living artwork at the heart of The Walk, travelling 8,000 km in support of refugees. The designer posing joyfully underneath the living artwork of a young Syrian refugee child walking across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the UK.
“Both of my parents were refugees after the war… I found out very recently that I actually didn’t have a nationality until I was seven. I didn’t know that. I also remember, back in 1956 after the Hungarian Revolution, my father driving me when he volunteered to bring Hungarian refugees from the station to wherever they were going. I remember a conversation we had in the car when he said, ‘you always have to be nice to refugees.’ But it’s not just about being nice to refugees, and that’s why I wanted to pay homage to Chancellor Merkel. I decided this last week, when I had the idea of contacting all of the most influential women in the world, I could think to make little messages on their telephone. To thank Mrs. Merkel for her 16 years of amazing leadership with compassion, with intelligence, with dignity. When she took in a million refugees, she did a huge favor to refugees, but she also did a favor to Germany. Because when you take on people, they work hard for you. My son Alex still only goes to immigrant doctors as he thinks they studied harder!”
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