This past August, I had the privilege of collaborating with the pillar fashion house and woman that is Diane von Furstenberg. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since founding OLEADA Lounge: to partner with women that can inspire and invigorate one another, across all walks of life. DVF was exactly that and more.
When I was in Columbia business school, I attended a women’s leadership summit where Diane was a guest speaker. At the event, all I heard from the other attendees was a boatload of negativity: a lot of them being treated unequally in the workforce, failing to get funding from metro capital, and most of them facing outright discrimination. As an MBA student about to venture out into the business realm, and as a minority female, their stories did nothing to quell my anxieties about entering the workforce. Then Diane came on stage as the closing speaker.
In her interview, she stated that her designs were for women who wanted to be in charge. To that, many people may laugh and think, how does an article of clothing have anything to do with your goals in life? But to me, it made sense. Her wrap dress design, ideated in 1972, is what made von Furstenberg a household name. It's easy to wear, versatile, and timeless, but it makes a statement: women do not need to sacrifice their femininity for the sake of looking professional. Nor do they need to shy away from the sheer confidence and power their appearance can bring them.
To this day, I remember her interview at that summit. When I thought about writing this blog, I even pulled out my notes from all those years ago to share the one quote I wrote down, word for word, that she said.
“The only relationship that we need for most is the relationship we have with ourself. Any other relationship is a plus.”
If working in private equity taught me anything, it’s that many female professionals in a corporate setting are unhappy because they feel the need to impress everyone but themselves. I know, because I used to do it too: play the man’s game. To break out of it I sought to find a source of inspiration, a woman that could give me hope to find more fulfillment within my career.
Diane taught me what real women’s leadership is about, and plot twist, it doesn’t come from a woman simply wearing a suit. A woman in a suit gives a fraudulent sense of power, because it promotes the idea that we must make ourselves emulate a man so we feel as though we can retain a man’s power. It gives the iteration that we’ll do anything to appear strong, instead of actually feeling it. DVF proved that real women’s power comes from within yourself, and externally, she wraps it not in a suit, but in a dress. I’m looking to put it in a handbag.
Having been part of her InCharge community for years, I knew I wanted to collaborate with her while my brand was still emerging. While OLEADA’s message is not as profound, the similarities within our foundations are what made me realize this was worth pursuing. No matter how hard I had to try.
When I was eventually put in touch with a member from corporate, they told me the event would be held at their headquarters in Chelsea, and not to expect Diane herself to make an appearance. With or without her, I knew the event was going to be profound. This was a milestone for myself and my brand.
So on the night of August 16th, as me and my five panelists took our seats at the head of the DVF showroom, I did not expect to see Diane herself walking down the aisle towards us. Yes, I was shocked, and of course I fangirled a little bit (a lot), but I believe the activation of our combined purposes and the excellent panelists I brought together attracted her somehow. As if she knew this is for the women who want to take control of their lives and shape their paths, fight for the success of their careers: just like she did back then.
When Diane asked me what the name “OLEADA” meant, I told her it means “ocean waves,” a metaphor for woman’s power: Elastic– gentle yet fierce, poised yet mighty, all at once. In response, Diane said the metaphor is nothing short of the truth, that her power is what makes her encapsulated by the ocean, and the swelling waves she swims in every day. Because at her age, she’s not worried about testing the waters. Her successes as a pillar fashion house are tried and true.
By the end of the event, a banker from Morgan Stanley told me “This is one of the best professional networking events I have ever attended”. With that, I just felt special. The store was full of not just clothes, accessories, and my bags, but the hearts, hopes, and dreams of all attendees. I always saw my brand as more than something that sells bags. I wanted to use these bags as a vehicle to connect others and that succeeded far past my expectations, compared to when I first started.
To Monisha, Chi, Michelle, Bhakti, and Sana: Thank you for reinforcing that female leadership is a unique force to be reckoned with. We have empathy and compassion, yet can act tough when we need to be. We can take more stress and pain and we can be reborn faster.