Forty Years of the Diane von Furstenberg Wrap Dress

January 17, 2014

It is set to be a year of fashionable 40th birthdays. Not only is it Kate Moss's this week and Victoria Beckham's in April, this year also marks the 40th year of the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.

The dress was created in 1974 when von Furstenberg, who had launched her design career two years previously with a cotton jersey shirt dress and a ballerina-style wrap dress, hit upon the idea of morphing the two pieces into one garment. Within two years, five million wrap dresses had been sold and von Furstenberg had worn one on the cover of Newsweek, which called her "the most marketable designer since Coco Chanel".

At 66, von Furstenberg is the head of a multi-million dollar brand and, as president of the Council of Fashion Designers America, is a key player in the international fashion industry.

The designer is marking the anniversary by celebrating the roots of the wrap dress in 70s Manhattan, with a special edition of "pop wrap" dresses in collaboration with the Andy WarholFoundation. The pop wrap dressesmarry original wrap dress prints with Warhol images. The Twig print dress, which the designer wore for her Newsweek cover portrait, is embellished with Warhol's colourful dollar signs; the Chainlink print dress which Von Furstenberg wore to pose for her portrait by Warhol, is overlaid with giant blooms from Warhol's 1964 Flowers series, inspired by a colour photograph of hibiscus blossom taken by Patricia Caulfield that has been a recurring motif in Von Furstenberg's collections since 2008.

The 40-year-long story of the wrap dress will also be celebrated in an exhibition which opened in Los Angeles in January, which will include portraits of the designer by artists including Warhol and Helmut Newton. The "pop wrap" collection could signify another 15 minutes of fame for the wrap dress. There is already a significant waiting list for the collection at online boutique, where buyer Louise Reichmann predicts it will "sell out within weeks". Two decades ago, the second wave of wrap-dress mania prompted the New York Times to call Von Furstenberg "the queen of clothing comebacks". Years out of the limelight, the style could be ripe for a revival, and the Warhol-inspired collection hits stores just when fashion is embracing daring, art-inspired looks. The spring collections by Prada and Celine, two of the most influential labels in the fashion world, are full of brash colour palettes and bold brushstrokes which owe more to Pop Art and the exuberance of street life than to the narrower aesthetic traditions of the Milan and Paris catwalks.

The Diane von Furstenberg empire is now a global brand which has long outgrown financial dependence on the jersey wrap dress. Revenue grew by 150% in 2012, a year in which the brand opened 28 new stores and Von Furstenberg was named "the most powerful woman in fashion" by Forbes magazine. But the wrap dress holds great significance as the brand's creation myth, a garment which continues to define the DNA of the label. Von Furstenberg once said "the wrap dress is the most traditional form of dressing: it's like a robe, a kimono, a toga. It doesn't have buttons or zippers. What made it different was that it was jersey; it made every woman look like a feline." It became a symbol of women's liberation in the 1970s, associated with the glamour and natural self-confidence of the designer herself. Von Furstenberg, who split up with her first husband early in that decade, later wrote in her memoir of visiting Studio 54 that "around midnight, I would put on my cowboy boots, drive myself to midtown in my Mercedes, park it in the nearby garage, and join in. I loved the feeling of walking in alone, like a cowboy walking into a saloon, feeling that I was breaking a taboo." Explaining the appeal of the wrap dress to a French journalist, she said, "Well, if you're trying to slip out without waking a sleeping man, zips are a nightmare."