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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Woman I Wanted to Be

I LOVED this book. Like, I will read it again, and then probably five more times after that, and then give a copy to all of my favorite people including my mom for Mother's Day so hopefully she's not reading this... LOVED it. 
I listened to Diane von Furstenberg's The Woman I Wanted to Be on Audible, and because it's narrated by DVF herself, her lilting European accent made the experience even better than if I'd read it the old-fashioned way. I listened to it while walking in the evenings, and I came home feeling like I'd just had a long chat with a wise friend.
 The first part of the book chronicles her childhood, her parents, her mother's courageous and incredible survival after being imprisoned at Auschwitz, her first marriage to Egon von Furstenberg, her romances after she separated from Egon, her relationship and eventual marriage to Barry Diller, her children, her battle with cancer, her ski accident, her friendships with women such as Diana Vreeland, Marisa Berenson, LouLou de la Falaise, Hillary Clinton and basically every cool and powerful woman you've ever heard of. She writes candidly and heartbreakingly about the periods of her life where she dissolved into someone she wasn't; lost her identity; straightened her hair. She knew the woman she wanted to be, but there are many, many instances where she was not the woman she wanted to be. 

The second half of the book goes back to DVF's early 20s and describes her career. What struck me the most about this part were her seemingly endless missteps and failures. Her description of that Monday in July, 1977 when Women's Wear Daily declared the wrap dress had "run out of gas" is agonizing. She made a lot of bad choices. Then she made some of those same bad choices again. But not once in the 8+ hours it took me to listen to this book, does she blame her failures on anymore except herself. The "crash" of the wrap dress was a result of her ignoring an inventory that had grown out of control. The demise of a couture line in the 1980s was thanks to her own lackluster interest in the 80s aesthetic and an eventual move to Paris to follow a man. She gives a lot of credit to her family and many others in the fashion industry who helped to guide her and steer her brand back to where it is today. But- like her failures, her successes are ultimately her own; and it is clear that she is very proud.

She is humble, and at the same time, she is outrageously self-confident. She is matter of fact while describing her penthouse apartment in Manhattan (complete with a freestanding teak bathtub, tented canopy bed and Andy Warhol portraits) and Cloudwalk, her large and elegant estate in Connecticut. She's lived a life of luxury many will only dream of, but I don't think that her fortune makes her experience any less relevant to her readers. Plus it's fun to hear about.

I came away from this book feeling encouraged and optimistic. Last week, I had a hectic but fantastic Monday thru Thursday. I thought I'd done really well at some tricky things at work, and that I'd earned some respect. Then on Friday, I messed up so many things that I lost count. I was frustrated and thoroughly embarrassed. It was tempting to blame someone else, or to blame everyone else. I was overworked, and this person didn't do her part. But after I calmed down, I owned up to all of it and tried to embrace the lesson. It was all my responsibility- just as my success early in the week had been mine as well. And while it wasn't pretty, it wasn't really a huge deal either. What would DVF to, I wondered? Would she let this phase her? No. And so neither did I.

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