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In Conversation:
Renzo Piano and Diane von Furstenberg

The Whitney Museum of American Art opens downtown today, just one block south of our Meatpacking District headquarters. On the eve of its opening, Diane visited the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (also our neighbor!) to catch up with the museum’s designer, her old friend the legendary architect Renzo Piano. 

Diane von Furstenberg: How many museums have you done?
Renzo Piano: Depends what you call a museum. If you put in the science museums and all that, I think it’s about 26, 27.
DVF: So why is an Italian so successful in America?
RP: What a question! I don’t know, I have multiple answers, I guess. One is very simply because I keep asking the same question. Why have you given me this job, you know? I was talking yesterday—I was in a meeting with Lee Bollinger [President, Columbia University], all those people—great people. Intelligent humans. And I asked the question: Why ever are you asking me? Because I am building the first three buildings of the new [Columbia] campus.
And the answer is about being a humanist. I know that is a bit pretentious to say for me, but it’s not me. This is what I hear when I ask the question. It’s about the idea that cities are places where buildings talk to the street. They are part of the street. There’s a kind of flow… I think it’s about this, fundamentally: it’s about the idea that in Europe we are not better, but we have experience. We have this in our DNA.
DVF: History.
RP: It’s part of history. When you make a building, it’s part of a street. I keep calling this little place, Gansevoort—it became a largo. I keep saying to everybody: largo. Nobody understands what is a largo. Largo is a wider street. Or largo is a narrower piazza. Nobody understands that but in Italian, I can tell you at least 10, 12 different ways you have to name piazza. Because it’s part of our culture. So this idea that you don’t take the piece of land and you go down toom! Like that. You don’t take the land. You give back the land to the city. That’s the reason why this [Whitney] building floats. Why the building actually—underneath, you allow the people to come. This is about accessibility, openness.
DVF: So which is the building you’re the most proud of, in all the things you’ve done?
RP: It’s impossible because it’s not about pride. It’s also about love; it’s about affection. When we have 50, 60 children around the world you are in trouble first to find the mother…
DVF: Any one you’re ashamed of?
RP: Not ashamed but…
DVF: That you like less!
RP: There is no one that if I can restart again I will change of course. Because imperfection is part of our experience.
DVF: Who is your mentor?
RP: Many, but I have to say one that stays a long time was my father, because my father was a small builder in Genova. In my family, everybody was builders. Everybody. My grandfather, my father. But small builders, not big builders… so you grow up with this idea that you have to become a builder, something like that, and he was a man of construction. When you grow up in construction sites, the sand remains under the skin, so you run back to this. So this remained.
DVF: So you are a builder, more than an architect.
RP: Let’s put it this way. When I went to see my father, I told him I wanted to become an architect—he watched me and said, an architect? But why ever? You can be a builder!
But fundamentally I am a builder, Diane, I am a builder. I am a builder with desires. It’s a bit stupid to say a builder because a builder is somebody going there blip, blip, blip, but thanks God, making buildings has never been just a technical action. Even in the most humble paths, that’s the story. It’s not just making a shelter. It’s also about celebrating yourself.
DVF: Alright, so you are happy with the results [of the Whitney]?
RP: I am, I am happy.
DVF: I am very happy. First we made it happen and that was a miracle.
RP: It’s a miracle, and you are part of that miracle.
DVF: I helped.
RP: It’s a miracle because they tried for 20, 25 years and they never succeeded.
DVF: And now it’s there, and it happened so fast!
RP:
Now it’s there and I tell you one thing, Diane. Making a building for American art is something. Because you know, I am European, you are, and we grew up—we all grew up—we said at the end that America is about freedom. It is quite true! I was a very, very good friend of [writer] Nanda Pivano. We talked all the time about freedom in literature. When you talk about Jack Kerouac, you talk about John Steinbeck—it’s about freedom. It’s not just literature. It’s also ballet, it is also theater, it is also music… America is freedom, and this is what you see. When you go to see the collection, it’s freedom. And freedom is not easy to manage. You need to be a little wild. Even a bit unpolite.
DVF: But, you see that is very Genovese.
RP: No, come on.
DVF: Yes! You’re a port. You’re looking out!
RP: You know you are right, Diane. It’s also about being bad boys.
DVF: Rebelling!
RP: You know, when you are a child like that, you remain bad boys—
DVF: He was very good looking. He was very good looking. I remember.
RP: Anyway, you remain bad boys. I was saying this because the challenge was not easy, also, because the Breuer building made a good job. It became part of the city. It was generous, it was unpretentious. Artists love it. Space was flexible so, you know, you have the legacy that is not easy.
DVF: You know we’re going to do the park in front of you [Pier 55], right? It’s going to be wonderful. One day I should take you to look at the design. The Heatherwick.
RP: I know—that park is fantastic, and we should make a connection. It’s not that difficult to fly above the highway. So this is a kind of continuous transformation. And we are neighbors. It’s fantastic… if you ask me if I’m happy, of course I’m happy. It’s quite clear that you can’t make buildings by answering to the level of the position of people… I’m pleased because I think there’s a right level of wildness, and that is what you need, because that’s freedom boys.
DVF: So it’s all about freedom. That’s the end. So it’s freedom, Genova, 27 museums, rebel, good looking, Italian, freedom. OK, andiamo!

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Mother’s Day Dinner:
The Caralyn Dress

If you’ll be dining with Mom on her big day, we have a few suggestions on what should come with you. First off, flowers (of course!). Next, a heel with a sweet touch of gingham, and an envelope clutch in gold–a festive neutral she’s sure to love. Finally, the real treats: a dress for any occasion and the gift for any great mom. The dress in question is our new Caralyn, a bright shift with scallop detailing that is perfect with pumps for a day in the office, or with bright sandals for the weekend and travel. As for the gift, Diane’s memoir is like sitting down for an intimate conversation with the woman herself, filled with humor, wisdom and advice–just like mom herself!

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Summer Must Have:
The Camila Dress

Camila is truly the dress that has it all. Ready for summer, this chiffon style features flattering ruching, the season’s boldest shade, and a high-low skirt that shows off the leg. Plus, the gathered neckline has plenty of stretch, so it can be worn on and off the shoulder, depending on your mood. With easy accessories in cork and suede, the bold Camila may very well be the most versatile style of the season.

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Spotted:
Miranda Kerr in DVF

You can always count on Miranda Kerr for the best in effortless elegance, and lately she’s been taking her style to great lengths. This week, the model mom was spotted in her go-to wrap dress, a long chain link Abigail, and last week she wore a DVF Pre-Fall maxi while on the go at LAX. We’re ready to pair our favorite floor-length styles with a satchel and sunglasses for our next getaway. From spring weddings to summer travel, there’s a maxi dress for every moment!

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At Ease:
The Harriet Tunic

The relaxed Harriet tunic is a must for showing off the season’s statement prints, from embellished vines to our versatile pottery flower in this dramatic, oversized scale. The Harriet is one of Diane’s go-to styles, and this summer we’ll be dressing it up with a clutch and heels, or getting weekend-ready with an easy cork sandal and a mini bag in dandelion yellow. No matter the occasion, the Harriet is the easiest silhouette to slip on and go!

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The 2015 DVF Awards

Join us inside the 2015 DVF Awards, an evening that celebrates extraordinary women who are changing the world.

Presenters Hillary Clinton and Naomi Campbell, a performance by Christine And The Queens, and the announcement of the People’s Voice Award– get a sneak peek inside the most inspiring evening of the year. Plus, read more about this year’s DVF Awards ceremony and learn more about our 2015 honorees.

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Inside The DVF Awards With Jessica Joffe

Last night The DVF Awards proved yet again to be a rousing call to arms.

As guests streamed into the United Nations on a cold April night, just catching the last moments of a glorious sunset reflecting off the Long Island City skyline, a sense pervaded that the night would set a new inspirational benchmark. With Tina Brown and Diane herself setting the tone—exhorting everyone to use their voices to speak for those who do not have a voice—presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took to the stage to present her frequent collaborator and friend Ambassador Melanne Verveer with the Lifetime Leadership Award. If Hillary’s disarming and powerful speech was a sign of what is to come, the room was fully on board. A standing ovation began and didn’t cease until every honoree had spoken.

Naomi Campbell, resplendent in gossamer lace, took to the stage to present the first International Award to Adimaimalaga Tafuna’i who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Samoan families by connecting their locally specialized work to the global market. Maggie Gyllenhaal, evidently emboldened by her company, took her shoes off to introduce the second International Award winner, Pakistani documentary filmmaker and human rights activist Samar Minallah Khan, highlighting her role in outlawing swara, or compensation marriages, in her home country. Samar urged the crowd to rethink the notion of honor—indeed the very warped notion of honor that exists in many communities—and encouraged the women in the room to “bring those men who are brave enough to cry… to speak up for women along on our journey,” which served as a reminder that support of individuals doing hard work in the face of opposition should always defy gender.

Moments later, Dakota Fanning, firm of handshake and earnest of intention, took to the stage to announce the winner of this year’s People’s Voice Award vote, The Adventure Project, and give a thoughtful introduction to co-founder Becky Straw. “Aid is always appreciated, but a job has the power to change someone’s life forever,” Straw said, explaining what the award grant would do for her organization, which funds jobs in developing countries.

Finally, Diane returned to the stage to give Gabby Giffords the roundly deserved Inspiration Award for being a beacon of grace, determination and empowerment since the fateful events of January 8, 2011. When Gabby, recently wheelchaired by a bike accident, mounted the stage, the crowd erupted in emotional cheers. Her speech, short and sweet, can be summarized with these words: “We must never stop fighting. Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Learn more about The DVF Awards.

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Spring Style Inspiration From Refinery29

Recently we checked in with our friends at Refinery29, who showed us the many ways they’re wearing our favorite Spring pieces. Photo Director Sara said of her picks: “They’re classic but playful, which can easily be dressed for day or night.” We love how she wears things so differently from her colleague Candace, an Associate Producer. Her take on Spring’s styles? “They’re timeless–I find myself wearing them in the work week, all the way into the weekend.”

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Pottery Flower:
The Fine Print

For a floral that feels right with a bit of spring chill, we’ve been turning to pottery flower, a Matisse-inspired print that’s caught our eye in many scales. Our favorite New Julian shows off pottery flower at its most delicate, and we love styling it simply with clean accessories like the After 6 clutch and Cami sandal, which will carry you through to summer months. For more styling inspiration, check out how French It Girl Jeanne Damas recently wore the New Julian wrap dress: simple, sexy, and super chic!

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DVF Awards:
2014 Honoree Veronika Scott

As we look forward to the 6th annual DVF Awards on April 23, we’ve been sharing updates from some of our prior honorees on how their work has evolved since receiving The DVF Award. 

Veronika Scott founded the Empowerment Plan as a 20-year-old student in Detroit. She employs homeless mothers as seamstresses, who make convertible sleeping bag coats that are distributed to homeless individuals free of charge. Veronika was chosen as the 2014 People’s Voice Award honoree by popular vote.

Tell us about your DVF Awards experience.
The whole experience in New York, from start to finish, was absolutely amazing. The night of the awards, I was surrounded by some of the most intelligent, inspiring, and powerful women in the world. As a young female entrepreneur working to better the lives of women caught in the vicious cycle of poverty, I was motivated by the countless stories I heard that evening. I cannot put in to words how impactful it was to hear the passion Alicia Keys has for children living with HIV/AIDS, to see the collaborative spirit between Vital Voices winners Liron Peleg-Hadomi and Noha Khatieb, to watch one of my idols, Gloria Steinem, receive the Lifetime Leadership Award, and to feel Kah Walla’s presence and strength. Each interaction was unique and powerful and has motivated me to continue pushing boundaries.

How has your organization changed in the past year, since winning the DVF Award?
Since winning the DVF People’s Voice Award last year we have grown exponentially! We have hired 9 more individuals onto the Empowerment Plan’s team thanks to the support given by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation and the whole DVF family. Not only were we able to hire and support that many new people but we were able to reach our goal of producing almost 5,000 coats in 2014! These coats have now been handed out in 29 states across America and 4 Canadian provinces! Our strength and vision as an organization have been on the same growth curve over the last year as well. We have added programming to help equip the women and men we hire with leadership, communication, and professionalism skills.
I am extremely proud to share that everyone on our team has been able to transition out of the shelter into secure, furnished housing. One of the ladies we hired last summer, Takecia, has really taken her opportunity at The Empowerment Plan and turned it into a greater opportunity for growth and success. She now has a beautiful apartment, is enrolled in college courses, and most recently was able to purchase a vehicle. For being in her early twenties, Takecia possesses such strength, wisdom, and maturity. Her determination to create a better life for herself and her daughter inspires me day in and day out to work harder for all the women that are still struggling to make it.
Our tangible growth has been immense, but so has the awareness of the Empowerment Plan brand. Winning the DVF People’s Voice Award has given this organization so much credibility and helped push our mission into the national spotlight. More people than ever before are aware of who we are and what we do in Detroit and are globally supporting us and spreading our mission.

What goals are you working towards next?
We are currently in the process of planning out what the next three to five years are going to look like for The Empowerment Plan. As a team, we have talked about becoming sustainable and scaling our employment model into other cities, but we are now in a position to really plan out how we will make our vision a reality!
We know that the more we grow, the greater the scale of our impact. We will no longer only be affecting the people we employ, the people that receive our coats, but also the generations of children and family members that will not be trapped in the cycle of poverty because of our work. I am shocked, thrilled, and a bit terrified by the road ahead of us.
One of the biggest plans for our future is developing our coats for retail. We are working on building out a program that will allow us to sell the coats we make, while also still staying true to our mission by continuing to employ individuals from shelters. By bringing our product to the retail market, we will be able to increase our revenue stream in an effort to expand our employment programs and offer more opportunities to those in need. In planning for the expansion of the organization, we need to make sure that we implement the best practices and processes. We are currently looking for design expertise and assistance, a new space to carry out our operations, and experience in the fields of brand development and retail marketing.

For more information and to learn how you can help, visit empowermentplan.org.

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