Diane von Furstenburg Discovers Los Angeles
Published: May 2009
By Bob Morris
New York fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg heads West to discover a whole new world with her L.A.-based daughter, Tatiana
"Can't you go a little faster?" Diane von Furstenberg asks as she and her daughter, Tatiana, drive through Coldwater Canyon, a posh residential neighborhood in Beverly Hills. "There are speed bumps, Mom," Tatiana replies. The demo CD for Tatiana's new band, Playdate, is filling the Subaru station wagon. She's singing about velvet ropes.
"You're a better singer than you are a driver," Diane mutters.
"You're so impatient," Tatiana mutters back.
Who else but an impatient woman would marry at 23, have two children by 25, and design the wrap dress, a packable fashion staple that would put her on the cover of Newsweek at 29?But if Diane von Furstenberg is impatient, she's also inquisitive, open to anything, and appreciative of all kinds of beauty. Which makes her an ideal traveler. So when she leaves the East Coast (and her houses in Manhattan's West Village and Litchfield, Connecticut) to stay at the Beverly Hills compound of her Hollywood-mogul husband, Barry Diller, and visit her daughter, who moved from downtown New York to Los Angeles a few years ago, she enjoys poking around.
In Franklin Canyon, a rocky nature preserve just below Mulholland Drive with a reservoir once used for the fishing scenes in The Andy Griffith Show, mother, daughter, and daughter's big black mutt hike past a lake ringed by fir trees, then through an oak grove and onto a steep trail speckled with wildflowers. Since Diane has just gotten into town, she's far too excited to treat nature with reverential quiet, so there's nothing but chatter in French, Italian, and German, a kind of international aural bouquet that hints of jet-set living at its most posh and peripatetic. When Tatiana spots a snake on the trail, more attention to nature is suddenly paid—and in English. "Grab the dog," she yells, "or he'll die!"
Maybe it's all the yoga she practices. Maybe it's from having braved exotic places like Borneo, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan, or maybe it's from being a retail veteran who knows how to manage a mini-crisis. For whatever reason, Diane remains calm. "Go away, little thing," she says as she charges ahead in Prada river sandals.
L.A., with its heady mix of ethnic and spiritual communities spanning all parts of the metropolis and all socioeconomic levels, has a lot for the curious traveler to explore. And between these two von Furstenberg women, a lot of ground gets covered. Since 1996, Tatiana, 32, has lived with her two-year-old daughter and actor-musician husband in Silver Lake, a funky enclave just north of downtown. Her mother, meanwhile, has been coming to luxuriate in seductively styled Beverly Hills since the early 1970's, when she took her first husband, Egon von Furstenberg, to a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel for his 24th birthday. Though comfortable with opulence, she's also restless, so she often finds herself jumping into Diller's Lexus convertible to shop Beverly Hills and West Hollywood with a hawklike focus.
"I used to have a fantasy of being a Hollywood wife," Diane says in her typical droll purr. "And now I am one in a way. I do have more time to go shopping when I'm here than when I'm working in New York." She likes, for instance, Amphora Art & Antiques, an upscale store on Rodeo Drive. In West Hollywood, she frequents Melrose's Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern furniture shops, although she shuns the current interest in shag rugs and Lucite ("I'm too old for the seventies revival," says the Studio 54 veteran). Lily, a vintage clothing store frequented by movie stars, is also a favorite, as is Maxfield, an eclectic, expensive shop full of avant-garde sneakers and vintage Gucci and Hermès luggage. After a morning of antiques and couture, Canter's deli is a must.
Since Diane takes pictures wherever she goes, in particular of plants, whose shapes inspire the organic patterns of her fabrics, her first stop is usually Samy's Camera. "Sell me something new," she tells a clerk she knows. Does the woman who has everything need binoculars?No. A Polaroid for quick reference?No. An even smaller Sony digital videocam than the one she already carries around?"I could use a big camera with a zoom lens for the boat," she says, meaning Diller's yacht. "Why?So you can take thirty pictures of one leaf?" Tatiana jokes. Her mother laughs and kisses her cheek. The clerk brings out an enormous camera with an enormous lens. "You'd look like the paparazzi," adds Tatiana, who's had experience, growing up among her mother's famous friends and even posing nude for Madonna's notorious book, Sex.
At Ron Herman, the West Hollywood fashion mecca still known by its former name, Fred Segal, Tatiana finds one of her mother's white peasant dresses ("I'll give you one," says Diane) and decides on a T-shirt by the hip label Juicy Couture. Mom approves: "The shape of this neck looks good on you."
In matters of fashion, how can Mother not know best?
When Diane first came to L.A. 30 years ago, she was struck by its light and its glamour. As a visitor instead of a resident, she found its extravagant suburbanism charming and didn't fixate on the dystopia of the place, the way other Europeans (and writers like Nathanael West and Joan Didion) did. "This is as opposite to Belgium as you can get," says von Furstenberg, who was born in rainy Brussels and educated in Europe. "Here everything's like a stage set. It's a land of make-believe."
But so is fashion. And if anybody had a fashion-princess story, it's Diane von Furstenberg.
After becoming a household name and a symbol of disco-era working-woman chic, she left the clothing business in 1979 to focus on licensed products, such as cosmetics, sunglasses, and linens. In the mid-1990's, in need of an outlet for her creativity, she returned to designing. With the help of her It-girl daughter-in-law, Alex (who is married to Diane's son, Alexander), she resurrected her fashion business. In a review of her fall collection, which ranges from Op Art minidresses to heavily ruffled ankle-length skirts, the New York Times lauded von Furstenberg for not resting on her laurels.
"I'm curious by nature, so I'm constantly finding new things," she says.
She's talking about travel, not fashion. But it's clear that one inspires the other, and she looks for inspiration wherever she goes, whether it's the Cannes film festival or the Australian outback. "I love the eclectic when I'm on the road," she says. "And I end up in obscure places."
Now it's Tuesday afternoon, and Tatiana, also a great enthusiast for obscure places, is showing her hard-to-impress mother her side of town—which ranges from old Hollywood dives to swap meets in East L.A., and beyond, to Pasadena flea markets and a cabin near Lake Arrowhead. The allure of Silver Lake is ramshackle and elusive compared with that of the Los Angeles her mother knows. "Here's Rockaway Records, and here's where I have yoga classes," Tatiana says as she drives up Glendale Boulevard. "These are the public tennis courts run by this old guy Jerry Goldberg, who knows everyone," she says as she drives into Griffith Park, "and over here is the public pool that was built in the 1920's."
"Is it nice?" asks her mother, who doesn't know much about public pools.
"It's beautiful. I go all the time and meet other moms," says Tatiana. "People do that here. It's all about community."
Tatiana is sounding strangely municipal, if not suburban. But as someone who rejects the supersleek and stylish for places that "have more soul," Tatiana is merely a more Americanized, Westward-looking version of her trailblazing mother, who took New York by storm when most women her age were still trying to conquer Europe. With the same infectious enthusiasm a fashion doyenne might use for the latest fabric or handbag, Tatiana shows her mother (who watches movies in private screening rooms and flies on her husband's jet) Griffith Park's pony ride, zoo, carousel, and playground. "There's so much to do here, you feel like you're on vacation," Tatiana says.
Is it possible that getting into community is what's really hip in L.A.?When public officials use the phrase city of neighborhoods to promote the diverse ethnicity and geography, the idea appeals to the kind of trendsetting crowds colonizing places like Silver Lake and Hancock Park, which now have strong café cultures.
Years ago, Joan Didion called the freeway experience "the only secular communion L.A. has." But now, in urban pockets like Venice's Washington Avenue (where surfers and stylists hang out) and the Montrose (a neighborhood that feels like a small town), that's been changing. The past 10 years have seen an end to the mindless building outward that made L.A. a city of strip malls in the 1980's. Now people are rediscovering what's already there. In Chinatown, along Chung King Road, galleries occupy storefronts. At a former railroad stop in Santa Monica, the prestigious Bergamot Station gallery has created a lively art scene. The Pasadena Museum of California Art is attracting even more foot traffic to a once-sleepy area. On downtown's Olvera Street, inexpensive Mexican stores draw socialites and actresses looking for embroidered blouses and lace-trimmed peasant skirts. They're also flocking to downtown's Standard hotel, which André Balasz opened in an old office building. On Sundays, its rooftop bar (complete with a swimming pool) is packed with rockers, actors, stylists, and tourists. "I use it like my own personal country club," says Tatiana, who runs with a groovy crowd and occasionally relapses into enjoying the more predictable trendiness of restaurants like Les Deux Cafés, in Hollywood.
On Vermont Avenue, she's driving her mother past a mosque one minute and a street sign that announces LITTLE ARMENIA the next. They pass a row of the kind of cafés and restaurants that inspired Vogue to call Los Feliz, a neighbor to Silver Lake, the SoHo of Los Angeles. On Sunset Boulevard, Tatiana points out Café Tropical, a Cuban coffee shop with delicious pastries, and gestures to the general vicinity of Chinatown, which isn't where the Chinese live anymore. "They're actually in Rosemead," she says, "and the Japanese are in Torrance, where many of the signs aren't even in English." Her knowledge of ethnic communities is impressive. But then, she and a friend are thinking of writing a book called How to Travel the World Without Leaving the U.S. Her hunger for all things authentic is well-fed on this side of town. "Even if we never publish our book, we love saying we are—it's a good excuse for more excursions," she says.
The pair are too late for lunch at Tatiana's favorite Japanese restaurant, Shabu Shabu House, in Little Tokyo. Instead, she takes her mom to Suehiro coffee shop, where you can order sushi or an egg salad sandwich, eel or cheesecake. "It's the perfect Jewish-Japanese hybrid," she says.
After that, they buy Japanese fashion magazines and stickers (for Tatiana's precocious towheaded daughter) at a shop in the Japanese Village Mall, a pedestrian enclave that is as peaceful as a back street in Kyoto. "I had no idea there's a place in L.A. that's so much like Japan," Diane says.
The last stop of the day is her idea, not Tatiana's: an Andy Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Maybe the museum is too big and obvious for Tatiana's offbeat taste, but for whatever reason, she can't find it and keeps driving around the same downtown blocks. Diane (who had her portrait done by Warhol twice) wants to see the show—she's producing a Ken Burns documentary on the artist. But as rush hour traffic worsens and no museum appears, the mission is finally abandoned.
"I can show you a piñata factory instead," Tatiana offers. "Or how about a store that sells bells and paper decorations for Buddhist temples?"
Something even better comes along. "Oh, look at this!" Diane exclaims, catching sight of a big, long pond filled with giant lotus leaves in Echo Lake Park. "They just had their Festival of the Lotus," Tatiana says. "That's a lot of lotus," Diane says, snapping a picture through the car window. "It's just really, really great."
Tatiana looks pleased. Who needs Warhol when you've got natural Pop art outside the car window?
Amphora Arts & Antiques
"The Persian owner stocks wonderful things, from ashtrays to furniture." 308 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills; 310/273-4222
Beverly Hills Hotel
The 90-year-old palace houses the famous Polo Lounge, in favor again with young industry types. Doubles from $415. 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills; 800/283-8885 or 310/276-2251, fax 310/281-2905; www.thebeverlyhillshotel.com
Bodhi Tree Bookstore
After a day of shopping, Diane likes to pop into this landmark spiritual center. "I get many design inspirations from the East, and I like reading the books there," she says. 8585 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; 310/659-1733
Lily et Cie
"I always see movie stars at this clothing boutique," says Diane. "The owner can be difficult, but it's worth it." 9044 Burton Way, Beverly Hills; 323/852-0667
A spacious, gallery-like store with designer clothes and vintage furniture. 8825 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; 310/274-8800
"It's where all the real photographers go." Not to mention Brad Pitt and several movie directors. 431 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; 323/938-2420
"Everybody goes for breakfast just to hang out. It's a total scene." 2900 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323/661-8391
Les Deux Cafés
This modest building fills up with immodest hipsters, especially on Monday nights, when it becomes one of Hollywood's most elite eateries. Dinner for two $90. 1638 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; 323/465-0509
A seedy-chic hangout between Silver Lake and Los Angeles, with live music. 3900 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323/664-7000
A Hollywood candle shop with a celebrity following. 8302 W. Third St., Los Angeles; 323/782-0342
Los Angeles Zoo
"It's big," says Tatiana, "but there are workshops for kids that make it feel like a local community place." 5333 Zoo Dr., Griffith Park; 213/666-4090
"An absolutely gorgeous minimalist furniture store right around the corner from my house." 2396 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake; 323/912-1940
In a former auto-repair shop with a clublike ambience, hipsters get cheap cuts described by one stylist as "couture punk." Mohawks, anyone?4451 Sunset Blvd., Los Feliz; 323/661-6535
Shabu Shabu House
"I love it because it's completely unpretentious and authentic." Dinner for two $25. 127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles; 213/680-3890
Silver Lake Yoga
A friendly neighborhood hatha yoga studio with pre-natal and post-natal classes. "It has good teachers, and the people you see there are very low-key for L.A." 2810 1/2 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake; 323/953-0496
Standard LA Downtown
A sexy hangout for the chic and budget-minded. Doubles from $125. 550 S. Flowers St., Los Angeles; 213/892-8080, fax 213/892-8686