The wrap dress slinkily swathes the body in soft luscious fabric, dramatically nipping in at the waist, crossing across the breasts, shaping and contouring the body in a svelte silhouette.

Diane von Furstenberg did not foresee the success of her wrap dress:

“I never dreamt that the simple dress I launched in 1974, a dress that was easy, sexy, elegant, and affordable all at the same time, would catapult me into fashion history.”

DIANE VON FURSTENBERG, THE WOMAN I WANTED TO BE
Diane von Furstenberg wearing her wrap dress

The story of the dress begins in 1968, when twenty-two year old Diane went to Italy to shadow tycoon Angelo Ferretti. At his factory, she came across “knitted silk and high-quality mercerized cotton jersey fabric” being manufactured, learnt about which designs make good prints, and how to create a repeat pattern. In short, “everything about jersey” was grasped from Ferretti.

Whilst on a trip to New York, Diane noticed a gap in the market place. On the one end “high-fashion hippie clothes,” on the other “stale, double-knit dresses.” Returning to Feretti, excited and full of new thoughts, “an idea began to percolate” in her mind. What if she made some dresses out of the colourful, printed Feretti jersey fabric, dresses both sexy and easy to wear – might that fill this gap?

At a fashion show in 1974 the wrap dress made its debut. There were snags along the way but Diane pushed ahead step by step, made lucky associations with talented associates and sales of the dresses rose dramatically. The wrap was established as the “it” dress of its time, and Diane became a celebrity.

“Back then, my main goal was to be free and independent. I was constantly on the go. I loved being that woman high on her heels walking in and out of places like a tornado, taking planes as if they were buses, feeling pragmatic, engaged, and sexy. I loved the idea of being a young tycooness… I loved having a man’s life in a woman’s body.”

DIANE VON FURSTENBERG, THE WOMAN I WANTED TO BE
Diane von Furstenberg & Oprah Winfrey

But in 1978, the dress business took a nose dive. The wrap dresses disappeared from production. It was in the nineties that Diane, now approaching fifty, responded to the surge of nostalgia – her own and the public – who longed for fashion of the seventies, as she longed for her one signature item. The wrap dress was revived.

On 9 September 1997 the jersey dresses were launched at Saks, and took their place in the wardrobes of women and in the fashion cultural landscape.

“As a designer, Diane has always been more interested in the feelings inspired by clothes than in the technicalities of cut and fit. She knows that the true subject of fashion is romance—women in alluring outfits and the emotions they evoke. Sex was a big part of Diane’s life, and the force of her style came from the heat of sex flowing through it.”

GIOIA DILIBERTO,   DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: A LIFE UNWRAPPED