Eye: Jonathan Saunders Talks 'Balls of Steel', Freedom of Expression & Community At Diane von Furstenberg

Jonathan Saunders DVF Fall 2017 Ad Campaign- (1).png

Scottish designer Jonathan Saunders has been chief creative officer of America's iconic Diane von Furstenberg or DVF since May 2016. In short order, Saunders injected modern color, clashing prints and expert draping techniques that pay homage to the original Smart Sensuality image of the brand. 

These changes came into view in DVF's Fall 2017 ad campaign, an homage to New York City and all its people. Lensed by Oliver Hadlee Pearch and styled by Camille Bidault-Wadddington, with art direction by Jonny Lu, the campaign features Luna Bijl, Yoon Young Bae, Angok Mayen, and Cara Taylor amongst real New Yorkers in Harlem, Tompkins Square Park, and Liberty Island.  "The people that the girls interacted with were kids that were dancing in the streets in Harlem and these beautiful boys, who we met on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, all these real people in New York that symbolize to me what is so brilliant about this city," Saunders told Refinery 29. 

"New York is this brand’s home. Yes, it’s international, yes, travel is so important to this brand, but New York is its home," he says. Not to mention, "New York has always been an inspiration to me," Saunders continues. "I’ve always been inspired by the time in New York in the ‘70s where Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, all these incredibly cool, incredibly creative people made such beautiful and extensive bodies of work within this city."

Saunders' campaign film plays to a key word in his DVF vision: ACTION. Set to the words of Rachel Kang's poetry, the models dance and laugh to words played overhead:

"I make myself in my own image/ bursting into the noon day hearts exploding to ribbons skipping into traffic on steam clouds/ cars and bicycle bells people with dogs that smell funny rich babies and exotic nannies stack like cards pigeons roosting in the crevices between elbows and eyes throw feathers over the ledge/ I would like to be colored in with crayons and kid sounds knitted into my park bench purled around the twenty wisdoms I know of the curve of my lip and your index finger/ to be stripes twisting like my arm around your arm turning a basic step into a cascade of chess pieces across the floor/ for what I dare to dream is the woman I will become."

"The poem talks about being a woman, and our girl is creatively inspired by what’s around her," explains Saunders. "She likes to express herself through her clothes and it is about this girl being totally free." As for the seemingly important theme of inclusivity that runs throughout the campaign — model Mayen is a single mother refugee from Sudan, for instance — Saunders simply says, "I don’t see this brand as an elitist brand, it can still appreciate a designer hand and it can still be beautifully executed and aspirational without being snobbish. That's what this brand, this city means to me." Spoken like true New Yorker.

Balls of Steel | Hers and His

In a new Monday interview with Refinery 29, Saunders is packing to leave his four-story West Village townhouse for a move to a Brooklyn warehouse. Asked what is required to fill the stilettos of Diane von Furstenberg, Saunders answers "balls of steel . . . and thankfully I have those."  So does Diane von Furstenberg, it should be noted.

“I was never coming in to replace Diane,” he says. “That would be A) an impossible feat and B) not relevant. The brand needs to stand alone as a brand. What the company stands for is not just about clothes, it’s about freedom of expression, it’s about creativity, it’s about community. It’s about all of those things.” Von Furstenberg herself previously made this point clear when she reflected on her own vision. “I wanted to be an empowered woman, and I became an empowered woman. And now I want to empower every woman. And I do it through my clothes, I do it through my words, I do it through my money, I do it through everything.”

Most interesting in the interview is Saunders' reflection about the increasing importance of the DVF woman herself. Saunders intends to invite customers into his studio on West 14th Street. “We are doing some really great initiatives where we start to build a community with different projects,” he says. “We have a concept which is about opening up our studio, opening up the offices, and letting the customer see what is actually happening here.”

DVF Spring 2018


Nicole Phelps reviewed the DVF Spring 2018 Collection with Saunders asking “How do you translate ’70s glamour and nostalgia for the past using innovative fabrics?” Phelps critiques the show:

The real-life possibilities of the clothes on the runway this afternoon were many, not least because of the reasonableness of their prices. Also, Saunders has a confident way with color and print. The color-blocking on a pair of handkerchief-hem dresses was audacious, ditto the sequined stripes on a slip dress. The florals on a few other breezy numbers were particularly lush, probably because they were hand-painted in the studio. The wrap dress, born 41 years ago, wasn’t a big part of the picture, but other styles channeled ’70s vibes while feeling of-the-moment.

See the entire collection at Vogue.com.