Diane von Furstenberg shares her secrets to living life fearlessly

Diane von Furstenberg doesn’t experience fear.

To explain this, the legendary fashion designer tells the story of when she was a little girl and afraid of the dark. Her mother, a Holocaust survivor from Belgium, locked her in a closet in effort to cure her fear.

Von Furstenberg does not recommend this method. However, she gleaned valuable insights from her mother’s unorthodox ways.

“After five minutes, you realize that the dark doesn’t stay dark. And even if it does, there’s no reason to be afraid of the dark,” said von Furstenberg, 74, during a conversation with Know Your Value’s Mika Brzezinski at the Michigan Fashion Media Summit on Wednesday. “[My mother] would probably be arrested today. I wasn’t allowed to complain, or blame. But what I was allowed to do was to take responsibility for myself. And that is the biggest gift I could have ever wished.”

Von Furstenberg says this fearlessness and self-accountability ethos helped build her fashion empire. It also forms the basis of her new book “Own It: The Secret to Life,” which is all about ditching fear and gaining total ownership over your life.

During the event, the designer discussed the book, her life and gave her best advice for young women wanting to work in fashion.

The book, she explained, is an outgrowth of Women In Charge, an empowerment media and style campaign launched by von Furstenberg two years ago. The book’s initial tone was light-hearted, she said. But when Covid-19 hit, it took on a more contemplative nature.

“Own It” advises people to be true to themselves, to love themselves, to express vulnerability and to help others. Most of all, it encourages people to own every aspect of their lives and careers.

“Whatever happens, you own it,” von Furstenberg told Brzezinski. “The moment you own it, you’re in control.”

Von Furstenberg (thrust into fame in the 1970s after designing her now signature wrap dresses) warned against behavior such as blaming others, getting intimidated by competition, or doing things that don’t align with your inner truth. If von Furstenberg had done these things, she explained, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

Designer Diane von Furstenberg shows Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski how to wear her signature wrap dress on the set of “Morning Joe” in 2019. Anthony Scutro.

“When you start out, you really don’t have much to lose— so you just go for it. I just went for it and followed my instinct and that was it,” she said.

Brzezinski admitted that she hasn’t always abided by von Furstenberg’s playbook. She contended that young women who are starting out have a tough time being themselves.

“I’m 53. It took about until 50 to really be completely OK with myself and my own truth,” Brzezinski said. “…It’s hard sometimes for young women. When you’re at work giving your truthful opinion and not saying what the person wants to hear—sometimes we can get a little tripped up there.”

Von Furstenberg insisted that practice makes perfect.

“I’m much older. And when you’re much older you can get away with a lot of things you couldn’t say when you were younger. But, it’s just practice,” she said. “At the end, the most important relationship you practice in life is the one you have with yourself. Everything else is a plus, and not a must.”

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