The Diane von Furstenberg Formula

Has there ever been a more iconic cover for a pattern/sewing magazine?

Instantly recognizable in her classic wrap dress, Diane von Furstenberg was featured in this September/October 1976 issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. Her dress dynasty had begun in 1970, driven by her “dedication to dresses that fulfill a woman’s fashion needs from career time to cocktails…” As her business grew over the next few years, it seemed that everyone wanted one of her dresses in their wardrobe. I was no different. You can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when my husband gave me a DvF dress for Christmas in 1975. Although I have, over the years, discarded most of my dresses from earlier times, this one still hangs in my cedar closet:

Long sleeved and with a separate tie belt.

Long sleeved and with a separate tie belt.

There is a center front seam to this dress which helps to make the skirt flow beautifully.

There is a center front seam to this dress which helps to make the skirt flow beautifully.

The label gives some fascinating information. It gives the composition of the fabric, – 50% cotton and 50% rayon. Interestingly, it includes an “umlaut” over the “u” in Furstenberg, which seems to have been dropped shortly thereafter. And the size 10 would now be a size 6 in USA standards!

DvF label

By 1976, Vogue Patterns had entered into a partnership with DvF, with exclusive rights to offer her dress patterns for sale. This was such a smart thing to do for both Vogue Patterns and the Princess – as they referred to her. Even better was when Diane von Furstenberg-designed printed fabric was available in bolts at your local fabric store. I remember having a difficult time finding these yard goods – they sold out so quickly as home dressmakers rushed to make their own genuine DvF wrap dresses. Vogue Pattern Magazine summed it all up quite nicely:

“Almost as important as the designs are the Diane-designed prints which turn her very flattering basic designs into that very special Von Furstenberg look. That is why, we are doubly pleased to tell you that, thanks to Cohama, you can make your Vogue Von Furstenberg in authentic Von Furstenberg prints.” First available in October 1976, many of these prints are still recognizable today as DvF prints, and they still look fresh and stylish!

A sampling of some DvF fabrics.

A sampling of some DvF fabrics.

Here is the editor-in-chief of Vogue Pattern Magazine, Judy Espinar, with Diane von Furstenberg.

Here is the editor-in-chief of Vogue Pattern Magazine, Judy Espinar, with Diane von Furstenberg.

Another beautiful print!

Another beautiful print!

I might not have been able to get my hands on any of that Cohama fabric back in the 1970s, but thanks to this blog and one of my readers with unused DvF yardages, I have been able to fulfill a long-held wish, having purchased two lengths of the Cohama fabric a number of months ago.

A DvF wrap dress seemed to be the perfect follow-up to my last complicated project, and so I retrieved this fabric from my fabric storage closet:

Cohama blue DvF fabric

I washed it in cold water, gentle cycle, and it came out fresh and like new. I was struck by the quality of the knit fabric, and of course, wanted to know its composition. This is another time when the vintage Vogue Pattern Magazines come in so handy. Each featured pattern is pictured in thumb-nail size in a detailed Patterns Guide in the back of the magazine, giving information on fabrics, accessories, yardages needed, etc. Quickly I was able to determine that the Cohama fabric is Avril II rayon/cotton knit. This fabric is lighter in weight than my “store-bought” DvF dress. It is tightly knit, silky soft, and, like my “store-bought” dress, it cannot be “seen through,” making it easy to wear!

Along the selvedge - the mark of an authentic DvF print!

Along the selvedge – the mark of an authentic DvF print!

I had already made a dress from this pattern three years ago. I have enjoyed wearing it, although the fabric is a bit heavy for the design. So I thought it would be good to make it again, this time in my authentic DvF print.

Decisions #3

I also determined that I had just enough fabric to squeak out this dress in the short sleeveless version. These wrap dresses take an enormous amount of fabric! It makes sense when you think about the overlapping necessary to make the dress wearable. When I spread out my fabric, I thought to myself, “Oh, I have lots of this – no problem!” I should have learned by now not to think such things! It quickly became apparent that I would have to be creative (again!) in my lay-out if I were to be able to make this dress.

First I made a muslin pattern with separate pieces for the reverses. This was so I could lay the pattern pieces out singly, not folded. Ever since sewing with Susan Khalje’s couture techniques, this is how I like to cut my fabric anyway, so I am accustomed to this extra step. But this time, I cut off the seam allowances (except on the long belt pieces), just as you would do when you are making a classic French jacket.

Showing a partial lay-out

Showing a partial lay-out

With a French jacket, you are leaving huge seam allowances (usually as much as 2” all around). With this, my seam allowances had to be much smaller and in some cases a bit less than 5/8” in order to fit all the pieces on the fabric. I had to really concentrate when I was cutting out the pieces, remembering to add seam allowances by “eyeballing” them. Now I am in the process of thread-tracing around each piece of the muslin pattern, to set my sewing line. This seems like a lot of extra work – and it is – but I determined this to be the only fool-proof way to make it work! (I did not want to using tracing paper and wheel to mark the seam lines, as I would risk markings showing up on the right sides.)

The back bodice piece, ready for thread tracing on the sewing lines.

The back bodice piece, ready for thread tracing on the sewing lines.

I am excited about this dress! Since I have already made this pattern once, I know what needs to be tweaked. And – I am excited that I do not have to line it, it has no buttons or buttonholes, and I know it will be easy-wearing. That, to me, is a formula for fashion sewing success.


Filed under Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Wrap dresses

23 responses to “The Diane von Furstenberg Formula

  1. This was such an interesting and informative post to read and I can’t wait to see your finished dress!

  2. How exciting. Vintage fabric, vintage pattern and a designer classic.

  3. I love the fabric and the pattern, of course. I’m looking forward to your finished dress!

  4. I’m looking forward to it, too. When you write about it again, please, could you show us the back of the envelope? I just can’t get a grip on this wrap dress without seeing the pattern shapes. I never wanted a DvF (or any other) wrap dress because I hate dresses that fall open when you sit — I think maybe I just never saw the real thing — perhaps some of them do close completely?

  5. Great post! I like the fabric and the pattern, and it sounds so exciting to make this dress:-) I can’t wait to see your finished dress!

  6. Such a pretty fabric! Yay for a less complicated project after your last! It is going to be a great dress! I love that you were able to find out more about your fabric – you always have such interesting things to share when you research!

    I do the same thing – I think I have more than enough fabric and then somehow I still end up having to eke it out. On the project I started yesterday, I had twice as much fabric as I needed (for once!) so I complicated it by deciding to cut both a dress AND a pair of pants. I barely got both out of my fabric, but man, was I efficient in using it up!

    • There is something to be said about using up every scrap of fabric, isn’t there? It’s very satisfying, and then, of course, I don’t have an extra quarter or half yard that I don’t know what to do with – and I certainly can’t throw it out!

  7. How wonderful to work with the perfect vintage fabric! I noticed the umlaut went missing in the brand, in Europe it’s still there in interviews when it’s used as the personal name.

    • Very interesting. I wonder if the umlaut was dropped with the brand as so many English-speaking people would not know what it is. It was kind of fascinating to me when I looked at the label on the dress again and realized the change.

  8. I always thought the prints she used hid all the seams, etc. so the dress looked like one flowing magical piece! Beautiful. Looking forward to seeing your progress!

  9. Fashionista

    DvF is hardly a Princess, she is surely the Queen! I didn’t know that you were able to buy the fabric, although I have never come across any in Australia. I live in hope……

    Looking forward to seeing your finished frock.

  10. This post brought back memories of making this pattern. My mother managed to buy a couple of lengths of the fabric and I made the classic wrap dress in the green and white print. I’m looking forward to seeing your finished version. The style is classic.

  11. That fabric – so recognisable and still very desirable even 40 years on! I remember how excited I was when I managed to acquire one of her original patterns from the 70s – it was one of the first dresses I made that I still wear. Can’t wait to see your version of this one! I love how single layout can mean you can squeeze just that little bit extra out of your meterage….

    • I now lay out all my fashion fabrics singly – it is just so much more precise and, you are so right, it really helps eek out every inch of fabric when I’m a little short! Great to hear from you, Mel!

  12. Couldn’t agree more. And after a few months of no internet (thus no sewing blog reading!!!!) it’s good to be back!

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