I will always remember 2014 for two things: the year I turned 40, and the year I truly understood why I have a life long affinity for Diane Von Furstenburg. Some may think it’s a coincidence that my 40th birthday coincides with that of DVF’s iconic wrap dress. The older I get, the less I believe in coincidence.
In 1994, as a college student in Los Angeles, I first laid eyes on the dress that was the physical manifestation of the woman I wanted to be. Though I could not articulate who she was at the time, I felt drawn to a black and white chain print jersey wrap dress that seemed to be me, but not me yet. I felt an energy. It’s that spark you feel when you lock eyes with someone across a room and feel something truly electric. Except this connection was with something inanimate– yet it felt very real. It was the first moment I felt alive in my skin — and from that moment until the day I earned my first paycheck and could afford to buy it, I had hope that I could finally explore my true self — the one free of others’ expectations. It was the moment I first discovered the woman I wanted to be. Though the discovery took place in my twenties, the manifestation took another twenty years to unfold for reasons I would only understand the day I turned 40.
I turned 40 in October this past year. Unlike my mother’s 40th birthday, which sent her down a spiral, I welcomed it with open arms. I was ready to embrace all that I perceived 40 to mean – comfortable in my skin, grounded, and not at all concerned about what others thought – like, really truly, at all. I let so many other things, so many other people and their thoughts, expectations, hopes forge my professional life path for me—I let them guide my decisions for me. So much so that I found myself in professional situations I then found myself running from. Though I’ve never said it out loud before, my professional life was more about running away from things than running to anything. The irony, of course, is that I did not realize any of this until I saw the title of DVF’s memoir: The Woman I Wanted to Be. She has long said she did not know what she wanted to do, but she knew the woman she wanted to be. On the morning of my 40th birthday, after years of dissatisfaction, I realized that the source of my misery was exactly that: I did not know the woman I wanted to be. I had always planned and thought about what I would do, but never gave myself the chance to contemplate and be the woman I wanted to be.
Despite holding fast to the Aristotle quote from my freshman year high school history class about the ancient civilizations, to “know thyself,” I did not. I did not know myself because I never got to know myself. I struggled in friendships in high school because I never truly developed a relationship I felt good about with myself. Fundamentally, I never valued myself for being me, so no one else could either. Growing up, I felt valued only for my achievements, and for the bragging rights that they bestowed upon others – and I let that define my relationship with and my perception of myself. When I realized that, I cried tears of joy for the freedom I finally felt, and tears of pain for what I initially felt were so many wasted years. Then I stopped crying because it was unimportant how long it took me to figure it out – all that mattered was that I did. I was not the woman I wanted to be because of what I did. I was the woman I wanted to be because I who I was – or at least, could be if I finally gave myself permission to. And somehow turning 40 did that. That realization as naïve as it sounds, has altered the course of my life, my thinking, the way I parent, the way I see the world and my role, as tiny as it may be comparatively, in it. Suddenly, it’s as it black out shades were pulled back and the brightest burst of light came in – it’s so bright, even closed eyes and crossed arms could not block the power of its splendor. I got all that from the book title written by my life long idol, a sort of mentor I had but never really had, from a dress I bought twenty years before that hung in my closet.
People come into your life for a reason. Things happen for a reason. At the moment it happens, we may not always understand why or what significance it has. We may be drawn to things we don’t understand, or people that don’t seem to fit into the current puzzle we are slowly piecing together. Life, to me, makes more sense when I remain open and curious about how everything ultimately fits — now, or years from now. The dress that I bought 20 years before and had not worn in years seemed to withstand the scrutiny of every spring and fall wardrobe overhaul — and not just because it was timeless. It was because it pulled at my heartstrings. It evoked emotional and visceral reactions within me. Contemplating parting with it felt like someone ripping me apart. I had not worn it in years and was breaking every rule I have about closet purging by keeping it. But I did. I did because I must have known deep down that I had not figured out its place in my life – until now.
When I looked back at the year I turned 40, the road to self discovery was paved by Diane Von Furstenburg in all the ways that mattered. I had never felt more alive, more myself than when I traveled with friend from high school to LA for the day to experience the Journey of a Dress exhibit. Or, experiencing her life vicariously in reading her memoir; or hearing her speak after I miraculously scored front row seats to her sold out speaking engagement less than 24 hours after learning about it (which I still can’t believe as fastidious as I am that I had missed!). For the first time in my life, I felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and exactly who I wanted to be. For so long, I had searched for answers. All the while, I realized I was just asking the wrong questions. When I asked the right ones, the answers brought me unparalled joy, empowerment, invigoration, inspiration, and made me feel like it was not too late for me to dream – and to dream big.
When I learned about a year and a half ago, that DVF was searching for a brand ambassador, I, without even reading the requirements, filled out an application. The excitement overpowered my methodical, thorough, meticulous side. But, it kicked in before I hit send – and as I anticipated, but secretly hoped otherwise, I did not make the age cut off – I was not even close. Realistically, I was not about to leave my kids and family to travel the world for a year. But I let myself go there – I let myself dream for the few hours I spent drafting my application essay about why I wanted to be a brand ambassador. Even as I watched the show air, I did so with a smile coupled with a sense of longing. I had the pleasure of meeting the winner, THE DVF brand ambassador at that speaking engagement to which I scored last minute seats. I even confessed this longing to her, and told her point blank, I was living vicariously through her. She is lovely, inside and out, and its clear why DVF chose her to represent the next generation of her brand. But I too want to experience DVF. So, I decided I should – and I would. So I am.
My 40 days of DVF. This is the experience I self-devised to kick off the woman I want to be, the woman DVF has helped me to become. I wanted to use DVF and all she inspires as a means of self-exploration; as a means of exemplifying the brand; exploring and living my life in her designs, guided by her inspiration; to make her world a daily part of mine. For the next 40 days, I will wear DVF in some form everyday, and post photos of myself in DVF in Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The posts will be accompanied by a blog on my website, and wordpress.com blog. I hope you will join me in my DVF journey of a dress, sweater, pants, shoes, tops and into my journey in truly becoming the woman I want to be.
Join me, won’t you, in my 40×40 days of DVF journey?