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Thursday, August 21, 1997

Von Furstenberg Redux
Legendary designer reintroduces her '70s dresses as the Diane collection

TRISH DONNALY, CHRONICLE FASHION EDITOR

Diane Von Furstenberg, who caused such a sensation with her little wrap dresses that she landed on the cover of Newsweek in 1976, is back. She is relaunching the dresses that made her a household name.

``The biggest surprise has been the amazing response among young people,'' said Von Furstenberg, reached at her new studio in New York City. ``Actresses and models are buying these dresses like there's no tomorrow. You go from being a leftover to an antique.''

Her new collection, called Diane, consists of silk knits instead of the cotton jerseys she originally introduced. The new dresses cost $200 and are sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Though she made the clothes for Saks, the store allowed her to sell a small order to a trendy downtown New York store called Scoop.

``They tried with 20 dresses and they were gone in half an hour,'' said Von Furstenberg.

In addition to having flea market hounds hunting for vintage versions of her dresses, and a powerhouse like Saks behind the launch of her new line, Von Furstenberg has the help of her daughter-in-law, Alexandra, 24, the youngest of the famous Miller sisters, as part of her team.

Alexandra Von Furstenberg is helping with design and making sure her sisters, Pia Getty and Marie-Chantal of Greece, and other trendsetters such as MTV's Serena Altschul, are seen in Diane dresses. Both Von Furstenbergs will be at Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco today.

``When I first started I was in my 20s and I was the youngest (in the company). Now I'm 50 and I'm the oldest,'' said Diane Von Furstenberg, who has meanwhile made a fortune selling Silk Assets, a line available only on TV, on QVC.

``Fashionwise, this is a complete opportunity. All the designers were doing wrap dresses,'' said Von Furstenberg. Having both Tom Ford of Gucci and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel tell her, ``Diane, now is the time, go back into it,'' was just the boost she needed. She moved from an office 24 floors above Fifth Avenue uptown to a renovated carriage house in the West Village downtown for the relaunch.

``This used to be a stable for police horses, so it's very wide, three townhouses, and the middle is an atrium with a pool. We have one big tree that goes through all the floors. It's like being in our own world -- it's really magnificent,'' she said.

Sandra Bernhard and Joan Collins have already called her new digs to demand dresses, which have bold patterns and skirts that are a little narrower than the originals'.

Von Furstenberg is also introducing suits.

``I joke and say when you want to feel like a woman wear a dress, when you want to act like a man, wear a suit,'' said the designer. Her suits, both with pants and with skirts, include tweeds, double-faced wools, pinstripes and zebra-patterned velveteens.

``You wear a suit because you want to wear a jacket, you want something a little authoritarian. These are not men's suits; they're very nice and very sexy.''

THE FURSTENBERGS

Alexandra and Diane Von Furstenberg will greet the public from noon to 2 p.m. today at Saks Fifth Avenue at Union Square.


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