BEIJING - When Diane von Furstenberg was 22 years old and just starting out in the fashion business, she dreamed that one day she would sell a dress to every woman in China. As a child, she had read about the country in Tintin's "Blue Lotus" adventure book. She imagined it to be luxurious and enigmatic. In 1990, she became one of the first American fashion designers to visit, at a time when bicycles filled dirt roads.
Today, with five stores doing brisk business (and plans for four more this year) and more than 300,000 followers on China's Sina Weibo, she is becoming a household name here, a realisation of her 2010 resolution to be widely known in a country that has become more than a business destination.
"For me, it's not just 'Go there and sell,'" she says. "I have really good friends there, artists and writers and journalists. I've absorbed myself into the culture and have given it a lot of my time. I have real connections there."
Over the past four years, she has visited up to three times a year, she says. In 2011, she hosted the Red Ball, a glamorous black-tie party at a converted studio factory outside Shanghai owned by artist Zhang Huan. The fete was in celebration of the opening of Diane Von Furstenberg: Journey of a Dress, an exhibition spotlighting her career as both icon and fashion designer. The show featured newly commissioned works by Chinese artists Li Songsong, Zhang Huan, Hai Bo and Yi Zhou.
Then, in late 2011, Citic Press of China released Von Furstenberg's autobiography A Signature Life, translated into Chinese by TV personality and author Huang Hung.
"I am inspired by the whole country," Von Furstenberg says. "I identify very much with Chinese people. And if you are into textiles and silk well - people say the Chinese steal everything, but originally we stole it from them, didn't we? It's the crib of civilization."
She chose Zhang's factory as the location of her party because of its blend of gritty and modern aesthetics, she says.