Congratulations and a warm welcome to Hanna Beth Merjos, who has been selected as the next DVF Global Brand Ambassador! We’re all looking forward to working with Hanna Beth as she begins a year that will change her life, and continues on the journey to becoming the woman she wants to be!
November 03, 2015
Diane von Furstenberg and House of DVF just gave away a custom DVF-printed Fiat 500x to the woman who could explain in one photo and one tweet how she became the woman she wanted to be. All of the judges were so inspired by our winner, Feven Yohannes, who wrote: “From Eritrea to a refugee camp in Sudan, I carry the pride of my people & the strength of my mother.” After Diane presented Feven with the Fiat, we caught up with this inspiring young woman to hear more of her story.
The story of how you became the woman you wanted to be was so inspiring to everyone who voted! Tell us more about where you’re from, and how you came to be who you are today.
The story begins before I was born. My father was a freedom fighter and leader in the Eritrean-Ethiopian war and he was eventually exiled from his own country as he foresaw and spoke out against an inevitable Eritrean dictatorship.
My father (who was just recovering from injuries caused by a land mine explosion leaving him blind in his left eye), and mother (who was four weeks pregnant with my older brother Thomas), walked from Asmara to a refugee camp in Gibra, Sudan. They did this with no money and only with the clothes they were wearing. I once asked my father, “What did that feel like?” To which he replied with a smile, “It’s like walking from LA to San Francisco. It took us a few months but we got there.”
Two years after they arrived at the refugee camp we were born literally in a hut. I say “we” as I have an identical twin sister. My mother didn’t know she was expecting twins. I was born first. Then fifteen minutes later my mother felt a sudden urge and just like that, Helena entered the world. It was not only the biggest shock of their lives, but it was also a huge shock to the community of friends they made in the refugee camp.
Twins in Sudan are not glorified as they are in the United States or in another parts of Africa. So, when we were born, people began to distance themselves from my parents. Poor with no family and very few friends it was my mother who decided to apply for a green card – naturally my father was very supportive.
My mother is a dreamer. She told my father, “I had a dream we would be in America very soon.” And she was right! We won the green card lottery and moved to Rochester, New York a year later where our younger brother, Nate (who was recently appointed by the White House as a Presidential Appointee to the U.S. Small Business Administration) was born.
Who in your life inspires you?
My mother and father inspire me everyday. They are my heroes. Watching my parents struggle, but turning it into an opportunity for a better life for our family, has instilled a confidence and resilience within me.
My twin sister Helena is my rock and actually bought me my first copy of ‘The Woman I Wanted to Be.’ She said, “You have to read Diane’s book, it will change the way you look at life.” And she was right. Diane’s story, her grace, her independence, her brand, and the legacy she has created inspires me to be the woman I have always wanted to be.
What was your introduction to Diane von Furstenberg?
My mother introduced me to DVF when she brought home the most elegant-modern black and white chain link wrap dress that she insisted she buy for herself! (I think I was ten years old at the time.) I have to mention that when my mother wants something, she’ll work overtime for it. Even if my father could get it for her, it means more to her that she buy it on her own. I love that about my mother and equally love that my father is so encouraging and supportive of her.
Tell us about when you found out that you won the Fiat, and about meeting Diane.
A little over a year ago I sold my car and invested the money into my startup I Heart Savvy. The very little money I’ve made since then I put into my business, so I really needed a car. But I didn’t win just any car – I won a custom wrap DVF Fiat 500x Crossover, because of a tweet! I still can’t believe it and I am so honored to drive around LA as an extension of an incredible brand that has inspired millions of women to be the driver in their life. DVF is a movement. Meeting Diane is by far the most incredible thing that has happened to me on this journey. As I walked up to her I told myself, “Feven don’t cry” and then…tears. I was so overwhelmed with emotions of gratitude. To meet the woman who has inspired and influenced you not just in fashion but also in life is a surreal feeling. I can never thank her enough. My life is forever changed by this moment. I never imagined that an Eritrean political refugee would be standing next to her idol, the icon that is Diane. This really is the American dream.
What goals are you working towards now? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
What makes the FIAT contest win even more special is that it came from a woman that I admire so deeply. Diane designs dresses for the modern woman and we are creating a mobile app for the modern millennial bride. I’m currently one of three co-founders (one of whom is my twin sister, Helena) of an all women LA-based wedding technology startup called I HEART SAVVY. The wedding industry is 100 billion dollar industry in the United States alone and 80% of the spending is offline. It is simply a graveyard of innovation and we have the rare opportunity to change that.
Diane loves mantras. Are there any words you live by?
“I come as one, I stand as 10,000.” I often repeat those beautiful words by the phenomenal Dr. Maya Angelou when I need motivation, a reminder of how far we’ve come and to keep going. As a political refugee from Eritrea, sometimes taking a moment to think of those we left behind in the refugee camp and our parents’ sacrifices really motivates me to keep pushing! I firmly believe this journey is bigger than just me. It is a purpose.
November 02, 2015
The morning after Diane selected the next DVF Global Brand Ambassador, we caught up with Alli, Cat and Hanna Beth to learn what they really thought about the result. Hear from the two runners up as they look back on their experience in the program and get to know the next Brand Ambassador as she prepares for the job of a lifetime!
November 02, 2015
Spoiler alert! Each week, DVF Style Editor Jessica Joffe is debriefing Sunday night’s episode. Read more for her take on all the latest drama, but be sure to catch Episode 8, the season finale, first!
And so, my dears, we come to the end of another season of House of DVF. It seems as though we’ve only just started, but here we are, crowning our new princess, putting our sketchpads and pin cushions away, and reflecting on the last few months.
I’m terribly excited for Hanna Beth, who has a good head, a good heart and a fresh perspective, to be our new brand ambassador. But first my final round of notes on their presentation.
It should come as no surprise that the pressure of the competition finally gets to be too much for Cat and Alli. Cat seeks refuge in her rage and Alli in her tears. I understand both of them, and though Cat’s outburst is frightening and inappropriate I understand and have compassion for her: she wants it that badly. Diane likes this aspect of her, but I don’t. Ultimately she’s too much of a liability to take on but I hope and expect she will learn from this episode and modulate her relationship with her own desire (which she expresses at the expense of everything, including propriety) as she grows up and moves along in her career. Alli has been holding it in for too long and pushing herself too hard. I hope she knows that, like making brand-appropriate sartorial choices, home décor can also be taught! I am not sure how I myself would have performed with as little prep as she had.
The fact that Hanna Beth ultimately remains calm in the face of so much stress is one of the reasons she is now our brand ambassador. She finally demonstrates the effortlessness, flexibility and grace our brand stands for. She is also secretly a little wry sense of humor which will come in handy over the next year.
I wish I had had the good fortune to sit in on Stefani’s brand seminar. She is one of the true sages in this business and the girls owe the success of their presentations in large measure to her. As their teachers we have to be strict, and sometimes I wish we had been stricter. We are not there to hold their hands but to push them to meet their potential. The job they are all gunning for is not for amateurs. It relies heavily on self-determination, discipline and passion. If you are truly passionate you don’t have to force it, it comes naturally. Stefani makes that very clear every day.
In the end I am thrilled with each girl’s presentation. They are warm, congenial and articulate. I prefer Hanna’s design to everyone else’s — it’s the most distinctly on brand — but Cat and Allie both sold their ideas with gusto and I’d wear Cat’s dress even if it wasn’t DVF. After nearly half a year in the program, they have FINALLY figured out that working together does not undermine their individual accomplishments. Is it possible to start the program all over again? Anyone?
Again, I’ve learned more than I ever imagined from the girls. About myself and them. It is a humbling experience to mentor them all, and I am grateful for every moment. Vulcan death grip allegations, pink silk robes, tears, laughter and all!
October 26, 2015
We’re one week away from the finale and the girls aren’t starting off on the right foot. This is one of the last opportunities they have to step up to the plate. Though judging by their behavior the girls still have no idea. The DVF Awards, perhaps most elegantly, embodies all the fundamental tenets of our brand. It is a night of celebration, empowerment, global issues and true elegance. Each of our nominees and honorees have gone to great lengths to make a difference in the world and it is a humbling experience to be in their presence.
When we ask our trio to style them, it is as much about finding the right dress as it is about acknowledging and paying respect to these extraordinary women and their extraordinary accomplishments. It is an exercise in restraint and grace. I feel for Alli and Hanna Beth getting stuck in the elevator, but – as Alli demonstrates – it is possible to brush off an experience like that and roll up your sleeves. I respect HB’s fragility, but I want her to start exploring the ‘mind over matter’ option and have more faith in herself. Cat — though the viewers don’t see all of what we actually experienced with her on the day — finally goes too far. She hasn’t learned that there’s a way of being competitive that doesn’t entail alienating everyone around her. Those of us who have accomplished our dreams understand that you don’t get there with sharp elbows alone. From the outset, I have had a stern interest in her, because she was — for all intents and purposes — a shoe-in. On paper she was everything we were looking for: experienced, stylish, sociable, articulate, ambitious, well-traveled, looks great in DVF. And yet, she manages to disappoint at almost every turn. She doesn’t listen, she prevaricates, she divides and conquers: in other words, her great instincts get lost in the fog of her desire to win. There is such a thing as wanting something too much!
I’m not proud I react to Cat the way I do. It is unprofessional in its overt emotionality. There is a way to criticize constructively, and there’s a way to pillory. I am unfortunately guilty of the latter.
But… life is, if anything, full of surprises. Cat’s parents seem to reinforce my view of their daughter and her thanking me at the DVF Awards is a graceful gesture. She does her job beautifully at the DVF Awards, which is not easy. It is a job that requires poise and confidence and I’m proud of her. I’m especially proud of Hanna Beth. I did not think she was capable of doing this job as well as she did. She has responded to our criticism by leaning in instead of rebelling and I couldn’t be happier for her. Alli doesn’t seem as out of her depth to me as the others say, but I understand the phenomenon of suddenly doubting yourself as you near the finish line. She has taken every critique we’ve lobbed at her in stride and has clearly grown the most. It is a valuable lesson to all of us.
It’s embarrassing to watch the girls assess each other as harshly as they do the next day, and I still don’t know whether it was fair to put them under that kind of pressure. I think Alli and Hanna Beth acquit themselves as well as they can, but I want to crawl under the table as they hash it out. Thank God for Stefani Greenfield: a sage if ever there was one. She has a way of cutting through the nonsense like no one else! I am exhausted, but cannot wait for the finale. Do you know who is going to win?
October 26, 2015
With only three Brand Ambassador candidates left, Diane is really getting to know the girls—and they know that any move could be make or break. We caught up with the final three on what they’ve learned, and the moments when they thought they wouldn’t make it this far.
October 19, 2015
The competition is getting down to the wire and any misstep could be major. Here, the candidates let us in on their most cringe-worthy off camera moments.
October 19, 2015
On this week’s episode, our final four Brand Ambassador candidates faced an important etiquette test: attending the glamorous New Yorkers For Children Spring Dinner Dance, which was a tribute to Diane’s late friend Oscar de la Renta. While the girls’ performance was mixed, the event was a huge success, raising awareness and funds for a very important cause. To learn more, we caught up with Co-Chairs of the New Yorkers For Children’s Friends Committee, Elisabeth Jones-Hennessy and Clare McKeon.
Tell us about New Yorkers For Children and its mission.
New Yorkers For Children (NYFC) works in partnership with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to improve the prospects of children supported by the child welfare system and to engage New Yorkers in that effort. With a focus on young people in foster care, NYFC supports programs that promote paths to stable adulthood through education and sustainable relationships with caring adults.
How did you each get involved with the organization, and what are your roles now?
Clare McKeon: I was introduced to NYFC by a close friend, who serves on NYFC’s Board of Directors. I was looking for an organization to support that provided educational support to children and young adults. NYFC’s programming really impressed me, as did the dedication of the staff and the Friends Committee members. Having the privilege to help NYFC has been an enriching and rewarding experience, especially meeting the impressive young people NYFC supports, who have overcome extraordinary odds to make their dreams a reality. We have a dynamic and engaged group of professionals on the Friends Committee and as Co-Chair it is a great honor to help the committee achieve its goals.
Elisabeth Jones-Hennessy: I discovered NYFC through my dear friend and fellow Friends Committee member, Allison Aston. I remember attending my first Spring Dinner Dance and feeling overwhelmed with emotion when the NYFC youth speaker shared how she was placed in foster care after her father killed her mother. She worked hard in school and with NYFC’s help she was able to attend college. Furthermore, NYFC provided her the support she needed when she aged out of foster care. I was thoroughly impressed with the Spring Dinner Dance and how everyone in attendance was there to make a difference in the lives of these deserving young people. As a mom and native New Yorker, I felt an instant connection to NYFC’s mission and knew this was an organization I wanted to be involved in and support. I soon joined the Friends Committee and am very proud to now serve as Co-Chair of the Friends Committee with Clare McKeon.
House of DVF recently featured your Spring Dinner Dance. What is the significance of this evening for the organization, and did you achieve your goals?
The 2015 Spring Dinner Dance: A Fool’s Fête raised over $775,000 to support New York City’s youth in foster care. It was the most successful Spring Dinner Dance in NYFC history! Benefiting the nearly 11,000 youth in foster care in New York City, this festive and fashionable evening brought NYFC’s supporters together to raise awareness for the organization’s important mission and signature programs. The evening honored Oscar de la Renta, one of NYFC’s founding Board Members and featured the remarkable journey of one of NYFC’s Guardian Scholars.
The Guardian Scholars Program is a comprehensive scholarship program that provides support to youth in foster care who are enrolled at Hunter College, John Jay College, and Kingsborough Community College. By providing essential financial, academic, and emotional support, this program helps students realize their educational and personal goals as they work towards becoming successful, self-sufficient adults.
Additionally, the evening’s live auction raised over $120,000 for NYFC’s Back-to-School Package Program. This program provides young people enrolled in college, who are currently or were formerly in foster care, with the technology and resources they need to be successful in and out of the classroom. Each Back-to-School package includes a laptop, gift cards for books and a MetroCard to cover the cost of transportation to and from classes.
The evening honored Diane’s good friend, the late Mr. de la Renta. Could you tell us about his relationship with the organization?
Oscar de la Renta joined NYFC’s Board of Directors in 1998 and was instrumental in raising awareness for New York’s most vulnerable children. For Oscar de la Renta, any child in need was his child, and that compassion led to actions that have changed the outcomes for countless young lives. The NYFC family is forever grateful for Oscar’s unwavering support and his remarkable work on behalf of youth in foster care.
How can people get involved with New Yorkers For Children, and contribute to the cause?
Individuals and corporations can support NYFC by attending events such as the Spring Dinner Dance: A Fool’s Fête and NYFC’s Annual Fall Gala. Each event provides guests the opportunity to support NYFC’s mission as well as learn more about NYFC’s signature programs and positive impact on New York City’s youth in foster care. Individuals can also donate to and learn more about NYFC’s signature programs by visiting NYFC’s website.
For more information on NYFC or how to get involved, please contact Erin Kuchar, NYFC’s Director of Development, at email@example.com.