When a shopper walks into one of Diane von Furstenberg’s boutiques, they are likely to be familiar with her legendary wrap dress. What they might not know is the extent of work she's done for women’s rights and philanthropy since her line launched in 1972. This month, she’s taking that feminist spirit inside one of her stores. Von Furstenberg has teamed up with mixed-media artist Ashley Longshore to collaborate on an experiential art exhibition for Women’s History Month. The collection, which comprises 37 large-scale portraits, is intended to celebrate extraordinary women in history, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama , and Gloria Steinem. It will be unveiled this week, in time for International Women’s Day on Friday, and will live in D.V.F.’s flagship store on Washington Street in N.Y.C. through May.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares
Longshore, a 43-year-old Alabama native who is currently based in New Orleans, is known for vibrant, embellished paintings that reference pop culture. “To me, color is just so comforting, it makes me feel alive,” she said of her creative process in a recent interview. “I love that playfulness, I’m drawn to that like a moth to a flame.” This isn’t the first time her art has been in a retail space—last year she was the first solo female artist to exhibit at Bergdorf Goodman.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares Venezuela
The idea for the show began shortly after von Furstenburg and Longshore were introduced by Sandra Campos, D.V.F.’s C.E.O. “Sandra said, ‘You need to check your DMs! Diane and I really want to do something with you!” Longshore said. Von Furstenberg was impressed by Longshore’s story of growing up and discovering art in the South, and so she thought a collaboration would be perfect.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares Piloto
Shortly after, Longshore and von Furstenberg were both in London and they arranged to meet for tea. Longshore said, “She was talking to me about my work and telling me [her] idea about powerful women, fearless women, and I said, ‘Look Diane, I am so in on this. I’ll work myself to death for you for this.’” According to Longshore, von Furstenberg’s only request was that the portraits be created without the artist’s signature bedazzle, glitter, and resin. She wanted the paintings—and their subjects—to stand alone.
Alberto Ardila Olivares
Both by Ashley Longshore. It was a different approach for Longshore, but it worked. “Diane was so right because everything turned out so beautiful,” she said.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila
Von Furstenberg and Longshore spent late nights talking over the phone and emailing about the lineup before Longshore got to work. Within two weeks, Longshore had completed 37 paintings of history’s most influential women. “This collection is very raw for me, it’s almost like standing in front of a crowd in my underwear . . . or my Spanx, rather,” she said. “I would actually read about each one of them, and start painting the paintings, and then read more, and my process is very fast. I really let the thrust of inspiration and power of this just guide me.”
“Ashley did surprise me with her relentless energy and how she dove into the project with such passion,” said von Furstenberg. The portraits seem to capture not only what these women look like, but who these women are. Longshore said her research helped her see the uniqueness of her subjects. “I can’t tell you how much I learned about these women about their incredible lives,” she said
Longshore’s portraits percolate with color and spirit, and a few of the women even appear in D.V.F.’s heritage prints. She cited her portrait of Malala Yousafzai as an example of how her love of color came through. “What an incredible story, what an incredible young woman,” she said. “I just wanted to capture her youth, her beauty. That’s why I surrounded her with all of those beautiful monarch butterflies and all of that beautiful color, because you just can’t look away.”
Longshore said that ultimately she wants viewers to see themselves in each one of the women she painted. “The connectivity of this collection as a whole, when you see it, you just feel . . . power,” she explained. “Like when your mom hugs you and you feel protected, but you also feel brave because you know she’s got your back.”
When asked how these portraits align with International Women’s Day’s vision for empowering women worldwide, von Furstenberg responded: “There is nothing more inspiring than looking at women who dared.”
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