The dress that launched an empire

Forty years after Diane Von Fürstenberg launched the wrap dress that made her name and fortune, it is still a wardrobe staple

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

sIt defines and pulls in the waist, skims the body, flatters most bustlines and can elongate the neck and torso. And it slips on easily like a coat, no zips, no buttons, just a simple tie. It is no wonder that the wrap dress, plain or patterned, utilitarian but feminine, remains a firm favourite of millions of working women since it made its first appearance in the 1970s.

For Diane Von Fürstenberg, invariably associated with the style, the success of that dress “paid my bills, paid for my children’s education, my apartment on Fifth Avenue and my house in the country”, she said recently.

Like the little black dress every year, the wrap is tweaked in various ways to keep it fresh – new prints, new fabrics, little sleeves, no sleeves, longer sleeves; it’s all a matter of choice. I know several high-profile female professionals who only wear wrap dresses for work and evening wear, rather than suits or separates. It simplifies a daytime uniform, creates confidence and is ideal for travelling.

Cut and proportion are important when choosing a style to suit. The overlap should be generous and not gape, although a T-shirt or cami can solve a deep plunge. The wrap needs to be generous and anchored inside so it doesn’t fly open easily.

Plain classic colours set off great pieces of jewellery at neck and wrist, mixing elegance with restraint. Colours are those that suit the complexion and the same goes for patterns, be they floral, graphic or animal prints.

Irish designers such as Louise Kennedy and Helen McAlinden reprise their jersey wraps season after season, and Charlotte & Jane’s Marilyn Monroe and Clarissa styles are favourites.

“We have done versions of the wrap which particularly suits apple and pear shapes. It draws the eye away from the features you don’t like,” they say.

sMena Ryan, an Irish designer based in London and founder of Ingenue, is making a name for her flattering dresses, including wraps for under €140 which are widely stocked around Ireland like the one in our main photograph, right.

A US site called ShabbyApple.com, which ships to Europe, offers a number of cute prints and plain classic 50s wrap styles.

Etsy has African print wraps dresses for €83.67, vintage Diane Von Fürstenberg styles from €375 and a watercolour vintage piece from the 80s for €39.08.

For winter, Diane Von Fürstenberg’s new version of the Jeanne dress comes in a collared V-neck style with wrap skirt and long sleeves in a graphic dark red and black print for £315 on the Selfridge site. On Asos, French Connection’s Mini Belle dress in floral print is both a winter and summer winner for €84.50; the same site has a particularly pretty heart print maternity wrap in stretch jersey for €35.21.

Finally, check out some bargains on outnet.com – DVF dresses at almost half price like one at €389, now €194, and a particular stylish leather and brocade number by Raoul, now €285.97, reduced from €571.

Bronagh Kelleher, the high-flying director of sales and marketing at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, is a particularly enthusiastic fan.

“For me, it is mega functional. Our industry is a very suited one – the wrap is perfect for presentations in the US when you need to look formal but fun. You literally throw two or three into a suitcase and they’ll take you from your presentation to a cocktail or dinner with clients and all you have to do is change your shoes. It always leaves an impression.”

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