On Thursday night, I finally lived out one of my reality TV dreams, channeling Whitney Port for a hot second as I headed into Diane von Furstenberg's personal office with a small group of media, staff and friends. We were there to celebrate von Furstenberg's upcoming E! reality competition show, "House of DVF," which is premiering simultaneously with the release of her memoir, "The Woman I Wanted to Be." Double dose of DVF.
While I didn't traipse up that gleaming white staircase (made iconic by the first season of "The Hills" spin-off, "The City,") I did have the privilege of taking the elevator up to the fifth floor to enter her insanely chic office that's three times the size of my first apartment in New York. (While the multiple pop art-y self portraits of DVF adorning the walls were pretty epic, her credenza covered in framed family vacation pics was the best sneak peek into her private, ultra-glam life. I mean, hubby Barry Diller in a half-zip sweater riding a bike? Amazing.)
The fashion legend introduced a clip of her new show, which pits 10 young fashion upstarts from the most diverse and reality TV-friendly of places -- from Salt Lake City to Haiti to, yes, Staten Island -- all competing to become a DVF brand ambassador ("DVF Girl") for a year. Von Furstenberg made it her mission to differentiate "House of DVF" from all those other reality competition shows by imparting positive messages to "empower women" -- a popular designer mission these days.
"Honestly one of the things that I deplore about some of the shows on television is that they objectify the woman and they make you say, if you’re a bitch, you win," she told the room. "And that was a very important point, that you don’t have to be a bitch to win and and it’s not plastic surgery that will make you happy."
Von Furstenberg stands by that last statement even if, occasionally, the eternally sexy designer might feel a tiny bit self-conscious about her fine lines. "I mean the hardest part of the whole thing is the way I look," she said, about seeing herself on TV. "At my age... with no plastic surgery." (She promises more of a deep dive into the hot topic subject in her memoir.)
But, of course, this isn't von Furstenberg's first time on the reality TV rodeo. MTV viewers may remember she made a few precious appearances on "The City," presiding as the big boss over Olivia Palermo and Whitney Port. "'The City' was very small," she told me. "It was nothing really. Except I did two scenes. This [show] is more serious because this is in my house. And this is a show that I take very seriously." The designer also guested on the competition shows "Project Runway" and "America's Next Top Model" (her granddaughter is "obsessed"), but she wasn't always pleased with what came out of the editing room. "Many times I didn’t particularly like always the way they cut me," she said. "Because you say all these nice things and good things and they go for [cutting] that, so sometimes I resented that."
But with "House of DVF," things are going to be different. "In my case, I am a producer and my husband is Barry Diller," she said with a smile. "So I am using my power so that I can get it my way." In the trailer, the show looks to incorporate all the ingredients of a perfectly addicting reality competition show: not-so-polished contestants (or as von Furstenberg put it, "they were very unsophisticated"), laugh-out-loud soundbites from mentor-staffers Jessica Joffe and Stefani Greenfield and von Furstenberg herself ("simplify, SIMPLIFY!"), the requisite booze-filled pool party in the Hamptons and, of course, lots and lots of in-fighting amongst the contestants. So what was it like for those who dared cat-fight in front of Diane von freakin' Furstenberg?
"You ever see moms who have that look -- if a kid is being very bad and then you just get that cold stare and immediately you just stop?" Abigail Petit-Frere, one of the aspiring DVF Girls, told me. "As soon as she came in the room -- it could have been World War III up in there -- and then it’s dead silent. And you’re just like, eyes forward. What is Diane gonna say?"
Von Furstenberg insists she didn't have to play referee too often. Looking me straight in the eyes, she said, "Most of them didn’t do [the fighting] in front of me."
"House of DVF" premieres on E! on Sunday, November 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. "The Woman I Wanted to Be" is available for pre-order from Simon & Schuster to ship on October 28.