8 Things We Learned from Taking Diane von Furstenberg’s MasterClass
In which the needs-no-introduction icon (worth a reported $1.2 billion) teaches us how to build a fashion brand.
Ever wanted to learn how to build a fashion empire from the comfort of your Casper? Not to sound all late-night infomercial*, but for just $90, now you can.
Iconic designer/branding genius/Wrap Queen Diane von Furstenberg now has a MasterClass on building a fashion brand, and I devoured it (and untold matcha Kit Kats) in one weekend.
For those who’ve managed to evade the YouTube pre-roll ads, MasterClass is an online instructional video hub where celebrities like Gordon Ramsey, Shonda Rhimes, Serena Williams, and Christina Aguilera teach skills like singing, cooking, writing for television, and tennis (not respectively; although wouldn’t that be a concept!). In a series of glossy video lessons, no-BS portfolio critiques, and actual assignments (read: homework), the rich and famous let you in on how they learned it all. And as someone who has completed no less than five of these curricula—MasterClass > Master’s Degree—I can report most of them are highly entertaining and a rich source of inspiration if you’re stuck in a rut.
According to extremely reliable source CelebrityNetWorth.com, von Furstenberg is worth an estimated $1.2 billion, and she rolls all of her brand-building wisdom into 16 compact, beautifully blunt courses (during one, she raises an arched brow at a 23-year-old aspiring designer’s portfolio and sighs, “Clearly, at this point, you have a lot to learn”). Plus, you get to listen to her peppery Belgian rasp for hours on end, which is a gift unto itself.
Here are eight key things we learned from DvF’s MasterClass.
*definitely to sound all late-night infomercial
1. Be specific about your dream
“To realize a dream, you have to know what this dream is,” says von Furstenberg, dropping that infinite wisdom right from the press-go. You have to have a homed-in vision—something you can almost taste, it’s so visceral, rather than ‘I want to be successful in fashion.’ Do you want to be a designer? A retail manager? A creative director? Do you want to work for yourself, or rise up the ranks under someone you admire? Live in a fashion capital, or be a big fish in a small town? These are all very different dreams, and whatever you’re doing now could be leading you towards a dream (or a life) you don’t actually want. In the words of Notorious DvF, “As you design your product, you also design your life.”
2. Don’t be delusional
A classic and oft-repeated von Furstenberg phrase—what she means is, be hard enough on yourself to truly understand your talents and which of those you can profit from, and don’t delude yourself into thinking that a hobby is worthy of a career.
3. Always have a business plan
“As the world is changing and we’re surfing the tsunami, you need new business models,” von Furstenberg says. Forty years into her company, she admits she’s just now creating a real business plan and realizing how much more she could have done (and time she could have saved) having had one from the start.
4. Stand for something, and stick to it
A brand is recognizable first and foremost because of its personality, and standing for something is the first step towards constructing your DNA. What is it that your brand will always care about? She refers to it as the thing in the closet you never throw out—trendy outfits may come and go, but that one dress that will always be “you” is your brand identity.
5. Create brand loyalty by focusing on your product
Marketing is important to tell your brand’s story, but first you need something substantial upon which to base that story. Focus on your product—how do you make it special? Von Furstenberg uses her wrap dress as an example: It was the perfect recipe of being relevant, practical, easy, sexy, proper, and not too expensive that helped her sell over 10 million pieces.
6. Talk to your consumer
Whether your product is being sold in a brick-and-mortar store or online, you need to be on the proverbial floor, asking questions. Who is your consumer? What and why are they buying? Be open to who your consumer may be, even if it’s a target you hadn’t originally intended on reaching—everyone wants to talk to millennials, says von Furstenberg, but your product’s demographic may in fact be elsewhere.
7. Stay authentic (especially on Instagram)
Treat Instagram as your visual voice, says von Furstenberg, and stay true to what your brand stands for with each post. She uses the example that at DVF, often a gorgeous posed picture will get less likes online than one of a woman caught in the street—it all comes down to authenticity.
8. Pay attention to the people you meet, not the role they’re in
People get promoted all the time—if your dream is to launch a household-name fashion brand, chances are you’re in it for the long haul, and someone who’s an assistant one day may be editor-in-chief years down the road. You may also not realize right away who will end up being the most important people for your career. For von Furstenberg, it was Diana Vreeland, then EIC of American Vogue, who wasn’t the cuddliest character but was the first person who saw the value in her wrap dresses. “Weave the people that you meet, that you can connect with, into [what will become] the fabric of your life,” she says.
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