June 29, 1946 – Prince Egon von Fürstenberg
Eduard Egon Peter Paul Giovanni Prinz zu Fürstenberg was the son of a nobleman, who gave up a career in banking to become a popular fashion designer and interior designer.
Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, von Fürstenberg inherited his title of prince from his father’s side of the family, but most of the family fortune came from his Italian mother, Clara Agnelli of the Fiat automotive empire.
He attended the University of Geneva, where he met his first wife, Diane Halfin, a Belgian Jew, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. She launched her own fashion line under the name Diane von Furstenberg after the couple married in 1969. They lived in New York City where he worked at Chase Manhattan bank for several years before enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The von Fürstenbergs’ whirlwind social life and his aristocratic heritage made them a frequent item in New York’s gossip columns and society pages.
Von Fürstenberg made no secret of his attitude toward open marriage: “After a while, passion cools…”.The couple separated in 1973 and divorced a decade later.
He took a job as a buyer for Macy’s in the early 1970s and met a wholesale manufacturer who asked him to design a collection for large-sized women. He launched that line in 1975 and soon afterward started his own business with a menswear collection.
He moved his base of operations to Milan, Italy, in 1977 and later added an office in Rome, where he lived in a Renaissance palace near the Pantheon. Von Fürstenberg expanded his business to include women’s wear, accessories and home furnishings.
A member of a German aristocratic family, he managed to keep his name in the press, tabloids especially. Although his given name ended in ”zu’ Fürstenberg, not ”von” Fürstenberg, he chose the latter, because it was better recognized and understood by the public. It didn’t really matter, his proper form of address was ”His Serene Highness”, a title that had double meaning.
His marriage to Diane was opposed by his father, Prince Tassilo zu Fürstenberg (1903–1989) a notorious anti-Semite. But her marriage to the Prince brought her a noble title and helped her fashion design business rise to international prominence.
The couple became estranged and lived apart after 1972, just one year after their second child was born. In 1983, he remarried, this time to an American, Lynn Marshall. During and between those marriages the Prince enjoyed many male partners. He was frank about his bisexuality. He even bragged about his bisexuality and drug abuse to New York magazine and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Among his favorite hangouts were the NYC gay bars Flamingo, for drugs, they had no liquor license at that time and The Barefoot Boy, plus there was his legendary gay partying on Fire Island.
Fürstenberg certainly didn’t need to work, but he was fascinated by the fashion world. He published two books on fashion and interior design: The Power Look (1978) and The Power Look At Home: Decorating For Men (1980). After that lowly start as a buyer for Macy’s, he opened an interior design firm in New York City, but his career was forever in the shadow of his first wife. It was Diane who made the name von Fürstenberg a famous brand.
Nevertheless, they remained life-long friends, and she gave him a professional push or two, helping to assure his success. His signature logo reflected noble blood and love for high society: a crown with a star.
In 2004, he died in Rome at 57-years-old, survived by his two children and both wives. There was a delay in revealing a cause of death, leading many to confirm what was already known by his intimate friends, that his death was from AIDS, although it was reported that he had died from liver cancer.
Fürstenberg was also a cousin of Princess Caroline of Monaco and the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf (b. 1946). Although he was born in Switzerland, von Fürstenberg grew up in a Venetian palazzo with a staff of 21 servants, one of the perks of having a mother with the last name Agnelli.
Those crazy von Fürstenbergs were famous, not just for their design work, but also for their trendy lifestyle and frank discussions of sexual escapades outside of marriage. They maintained a frantic social life and were among the crowd who participated in drug infused nights at Studio 54.
The von Fürstenberg family first rose to prominence as a 13-century noble house in southwestern Germany, as part of the Holy Roman Empire. Their noble status was elevated to a princely house during the 17th century. Today there are two Fürstenberg ancestral residences: a magnificent Baroque palace in Donaueschingen and a Renaissance palace in Heiligenberg.
His children with Diane are Alexandre Egon Prinz zu Fürstenberg, who took Diane von Fürstenberg Studio, a global luxury lifestyle brand, to a $200 million-a-year enterprise. He remains a partner and director in the company; and Princess Tatiana Desirée von Fürstenberg, a singer-songwriter-actor-filmmaker, who in 1992, posed for Madonna‘s erotic coffee table book Sex and was in the video documentary on the making of the book plus she appears in the music video for Madonna’s single Erotica. In 2016, she collaborated with the organization Black & Pink to create an art exhibit, On The Inside, which spotlights the work of incarcerated LGBTQ artists who are at-risk in prison. The prince and princess have a stepfather, billionaire businessman Barry Diller, also a bisexual; gay really, but who’s counting?
Read WoW writer James St. James‘ piece about HBO’s and World of Wonder’s upcoming Statue Of Liberty documentary featuring Diane von Fürstenberg from Fenton Bailey And Randy Barbato here.