It’s A Wrap

The older I get, the less I believe in coincidence. Maybe it’s because irony always seems to rear its head — though not always in a bad way– down the road, explaining why the event happened to begin with. Take the confirmation trip to Israel I missed sophomore year of high school. I did not go for various reasons, many having little to do with safety at the time.   But, 2 years later, my sister did. Admittedly, though excited for her, I was quite envious. At the time, I did not understand why the reasons my parents offered as to why I could not go were the very reasons why my sister should go. Seven years later, it all made sense. I met my husband because my sister went on that trip. My sister met my future sister in law on that El-Al flight – they instantly became besties. They immediately concocted a plan over the 20-hour flight to introduce their older siblings and marry them off — because then, they could become sisters.  Five years later, fantasy became non-fiction; and their wish came true. Like them, on our first meeting, we too fell in love and have been together ever since. That was 17.5 years ago.   Suddenly, missing out on six weeks of adventure as a 16 year old was worth the lifetime of happiness I got instead.  

Surely, it is a coincidence that the DVF wrap dress celebrates its 40th birthday the same year I do. Neither my family nor I have any direct connection to Diane Von Furstenburg — though we come from similar roots. Like Diane, my family members were Holocaust survivors. Both her mother and my grandparents survived concentration camps; and while that experience remained the pink elephant in a huge room all our lives, all she knew from her mother’s experience was optimism and independence. She was taught that being a woman is a privilege, and women possess great power — power that should be used in subtle and respectful ways.

Those beautiful lessons, which blossomed from such darkness, fueled DvF’s career. From a chance pairing of a top and skirt emerged her iconic design that has withstood the test of time– the wrap dress. Fierce yet feminine, the wrap dress signified chic, professional, effortless elegance  women’s clothes had not before. The fact that a woman could get in and out of it without zippers, buttons or anything else requiring a man’s assistance really said it all– and not just about the dress. It was a statement about women, period. In it’s own subtle, yet immeasurably powerful way, that dress changed the way women outfitted, carried and envisioned themselves. A woman wearing a wrap dress signaled independence and empowerment. It did not scream this message, for like Diane herself, its power was subtle yet fervent. It said don’t cross me, but come hither simultaneously. It was the ultimate professional dress with the perfect dose of sexy, if worn just right. A dress –but not just any dress–THE wrap dress– said all of this and more.  If that’s not subtle power, I don’t know what is.  But the true meaning of “it’s a wrap” I would not fully comprehend until I took a journey in a dress to an exhibit in Los Angeles.

 

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 This exhibit confirmed something profound:  a “wrap” no longer marked the end of something; it marked the beginning. The spirit that encompassed the values, beliefs and principles DVF held so dear were magically personified in a well designed, highly crafted dress. While DVF has long been quoted as saying “I knew the woman I wanted to be, but I did not know what I wanted to do,” I beg to disagree. Elegant, confidant and brilliant to her core, DvF’s creation birthed the woman she wanted to be, and the women she wanted to fill the world. She literally and figuratively suited women with the opportunity to become the women they wanted to be, the women they were, even if they did not yet know it.

I admit, I was completely ignorant about any of this when I first laid eyes on a wrap dress. I was about 20 years old, a senior in college, and law school bound. I had heard of Diane Von Furstenburg growing up. She was strikingly beautiful, elegant, and brilliant. She had a real life Cinderella story and became a woman who seemed to have it all – she married a Prince, established a clothing empire, was a regular at Studio 54, a muse to famous artists — and then lost it all, only to rebuild it all over again.  She had recently re-emerged into the fashion world with the re-introduction of the iconic “wrap dress.”  And there she was, right back on top.

The first time I saw the wrap dress hit me with the same ton of bricks I only later felt when I met my husband: it left me gasping for air because it, for the first time, felt true and real. It spoke to me in a way words never could.  It exemplified all I had felt but could not articulate. Somehow, the dress personified the woman I longed, as an adolescent, to become; and now as a young adult, on the brink of starting the career my Holocaust surviving family dreamed I’d achieve, the shoes (or dress, as the case may be) I sought to fill.

It was several years, however, before I could afford to make the wrap dress my own. Knowing it was out there was enough.  It inspired me to work hard and to evolve and grow into the woman who could wear a dress like that.  After admiring and coveting it for years, with my first paycheck as a working attorney, the dream became a reality. The classic black and white chain link wrap dress came home with me. A dress that inspired who I wanted to be finally hung in my closet.  It was an investment piece for sure — I did spend half my rent for my shared apartment for it at the time. But like all investments, time would tell just what my return would be.

With few female mentors to show me how to have it all (though I would come to realize much later, not all at the same time) and navigate the male-dominated waters of law in my formidable professional years, my wrap dress was a surrogate in more ways than one. Clearly, it did not offer me verbal advice. It did not help me navigate a problem or a difficult person; nor did it make suggestions about different avenues for legal issue resolution.  But, it and its creator became like  mentors to me. The dress served as the only constant reminder in my life that I was strong, even if I felt weak.  I was smart AND sexy; both a “lady” in the most traditional sense AND an assertive when I needed to be; a leader in AND outside my home.  It gave me confidence when I was filled with insecurity and doubt. It helped me fake it until I could make it sometimes. It was my sword and my shield. I sought refuge in its underlying message. Wearing it gave me hope that with time and experience, I did not have to play dress up anymore to be the woman I wanted to be.  

Twenty years later, the dress still hangs in my closet. Through multiple intra-city and cross country moves; a 5 year long distance relationship with the man my sister’s trip to Israel introduced me to, who, twelve years later, is the man I still call my husband, best friend, and rock today; two babies; and a change of career, it has always stayed with me– and many more have since followed, though my collection, like hers, has expanded into everything a woman could ever want: accessories, shoes, separates, a lifestyle, a life filled with beautiful things that are more than just things to me. As I grew, so did the message, staying power and versatility of DvF in the industry and in my life.

There are forces at work all around us and within us, all of the time. For some, we realize their impact immediately, while others take years, even decades, to understand or process.  The moment I walked into her Los Angeles exhibit that Monday morning in late April, an exhibit that was both a retrospective of her work and the work of others she inspired, I realized that the investment I had made twenty years before was an investment in myself. And though I did not know it at the time, that investment had the highest return of any I had ever before made. It not only transformed my wardrobe portfolio, but me along with it. As it grew, I grew- and in so many ways, it remained my foundation just as much as it was hers. My first wrap dress– the dress that both anchored me and gave me wings– did the same for DVF.   There, all around me, on the floors, walls, on mannequins in different sizes, shapes, permutations, in different silhouettes, as trim, as wallpaper, I was part of something so much bigger than me literally and figuratively. It took us both 40 years but there we stood together. 

 

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Was it ironic that my very first wrap dress was the first she debuted in her in iconic print ad– an ad I had somehow never before seen– telling women to be a woman and wear a dress? Though my dress blended into the foreground and background, walls, and exhibit itself, I had never felt like I stood out more. Tears ran down my face. The very kind, but somewhat bewildered DVF employees, and other exhibit goers watched me breakdown right then and there.  I did not care. It was no breakdown – it was a breakthrough.  Diane and the wrap dress helped me find the confidence to be the woman I wanted to be; and simply stated, helped me find me. And here I was. Here I am. And that part of my journey, our journey, the journey of the dress, was a wrap for us both.

 

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