Diane von Furstenberg on Holding the DVF Awards in ‘Glamorous’ Venice and Why She Sees the City as a Woman

To Diane von Furstenberg, the city of Venice is a woman.

“I’ve never wanted to be any other woman than me, right?” the iconic fashion designer and humanitarian told Variety before the 14th annual DVF Awards. “But I would love to be Venice.”

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Von Furstenberg estimates that she has been to the group of Italian islands every year for most of her life, a love affair that began when she first started her fashion brand in the ‘70s. “I mean, the most glamorous party I ever went to in my entire life was in Venice and at the time of the [film] festival,” she said.

“Venice was everything!” von Furstenberg added, recounting the city’s history. “She was a warrior, she was a courtesan, she was a diplomat, she was manipulative — she was so many things.”

So it’s only natural that the event, which she said honors “extraordinary women who have the strength to fight, the courage to survive and the leadership to inspire,” took place in Venice — coinciding with its annual film festival — for the second year in a row on Thursday night. Started in 2010 by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation (established by the designer and her husband, IAC mogul Barry Diller), the DVF Awards give each honoree $100,000 for their non-profit organization or to further their own efforts.

Joy Buolamwini Diane von Furstenberg Amina Mohammed
Diane von Furstenberg with DVF honorees Joy Buolamwini (left) and Amina Mohammed (right).

This year’s edition, co-hosted with Vital Voices Global Partnership, honored lawyer and philanthropist Amal Clooney; United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed; Helena Gualinga, defender of environmental and human rights; Dr. Joy Buolamwini, expert on the implications of artificial intelligence; and television host and gender equality champion Lilly Singh.

Set at the gorgeous Fondazione Cini on Isola San Giorgio Maggiore, guests were greeted at the pink-walled estate by a string quartet playing in the middle of maze-like landscaping. White-suited waiters passed out mini bottles of Moët and hors d’oeuvres as attendees arrived, among them George Clooney — who gazed at wife Amal lovingly the whole night — Diane Sawyer and Moncler CEO Remo Ruffini.

Jewel gave a stirring performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to kick off the ceremony, while presenters included Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa, actor and producer Emma Thompson, singer-songwriter Rita Ora and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi.

Emma Thompson Diane von Furstenberg
Emma Thompson and Diane von Furstenberg at the DVF Awards.

Pelosi praised von Furstenberg in her remarks, calling her a trailblazer who “does much more than turn heads on the runway with her relentless commitment.” Prior to the ceremony, von Furstenberg revealed that having Pelosi appear at the event was sparked by a text she received from the politician after the two had a lunch date.

“She texted me and said, ‘Did you know that Jefferson was inspired by the Republic of Venice when he did the Constitution to separate the powers?'” von Furstenberg recalled. “By accident, I found that text, so I wrote to her and said, ‘You have to say that, because people don’t know that.'”

Now that von Furstenberg has a place of her own in Venice, the fashion mogul plans to hold the DVF Awards in the city from now on (previous editions have taken place in New York City and Paris). Next year in particular will be a big cause for celebration for von Furstenberg, as it will mark 15 years of the awards and the 50th anniversary of her iconic wrap dress.

“It’s pretty amazing that I created this nothing little dress at 25 years old, and it’s still selling,” she said.

“I did not know, when I was young, what I wanted to do, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. And that was a woman in charge,” von Furstenberg continued. “I was becoming so confident, schlepping around the country selling my dresses to women… the more confident I was, the more confident I made other women feel. And the conduit was the dress. So it’s been this amazing adventure.”

But even as von Furstenberg prepares to celebrate the past, she is always looking toward the future — and how it can be better for women everywhere.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” von Furstenberg said of her ongoing dedication to feminism. “[But] women always have the solutions.”

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