She's a businesswoman, a princess (through marriage to and divorce from a German prince) and the designer who gave the world the wrap dress. Now Diane von Furstenberg can add another title to her resume: interior decorator. On June 23, the 63-year-old fashion legend will unveil four of the 20 suites she has re-vamped for Claridge's, the iconic London hotel known for its Art Deco opulence. Von Furstenberg recently spoke with TIME about her first large-scale interiors project, her love of animal prints, and the art of aging gracefully.
You've said that Claridge's is your favorite hotel in the world. What's your fondest memory there?
I've been going there as a client for 30 years. I particularly remember checking in when I was selling my cosmetics company to an English pharmaceutical company [in 1983]. Because I was having a lot of meetings and closing a deal, I got a big suite. I was still a very young woman. Staying there I felt so glamorous, so grown up and so accomplished.
Is there anything more challenging about designing a suite instead of a cocktail dress?
The challenge is it has to appeal to a man, it has to appeal to woman, it has to appeal to a couple. It has to appeal to a couple with a child. It has to appeal to a movie star who goes in and has her interview with the press because she's pushing a movie.
What makes a room appealing?
It's always about comfort. When you come to a hotel room, you want it to be grand, functional and beautiful. But you don't want things that are not useful. Sometimes you go to hotels and there are all these frames and pictures of people you don't know and you end up hiding everything in the drawer and then housekeeping come and put it out again.
You're best known for your wrap dress. Is there going to be a wrap room?
No, there is no wrap room. But hopefully you'll get wrapped in the room.
As with your fashion line, you've incorporated animal prints into the suites. Why do you love cheetahs and zebras so much?
Animals come from nature. They were not designed. All my inspiration comes from nature, whether it's an animal or the layout of bark or of a leaf. Sometimes my patterns are very bold and you can barely see where they come from, but all the textures and all the prints come out of nature.
Where else did you draw inspiration from?
When I think travel, I think caravanserai. I think of the Silk Road. I am a traveler. I am a nomad. I rarely sleep in the same bed more than three or four nights. And I know hotel life better than anyone. The way I design generally is very much travel oriented because that is my life. That's why I make clothes that are so light and so easy to pack and a little bit seasonless.
Do you think luxury remains relevant during these hard times?
For me the real sense of luxury is space. Luxury is silence. Luxury is nature. What I hate is when people think of luxury just as expensive and useless. Yes, a luxurious hotel is expensive. But, God, sometimes it feels so good.
Do the 20 suites you've designed have a sense of unity?
The suites won't be exactly the same but they have a clear vocabulary. We absolutely created a language with the fabrics, with the furniture. There's very much a DVF DNA in these rooms to the point that Claridge's will use some of my photographs. I keep a visual diary. I took some quite beautiful pictures of things stones in Petra, lotus flowers in Vietnam so you will also have my art on the walls.
Claridge's has stood the test of time and so have you. Any tips on how to age gracefully?
I decided to age naturally and to not alter my appearance. The best way to age is to be involved and engaged in the world, and to assume the person that you are. Your age, your country, your social background it doesn't matter. At the end it's all about being your own best friend and liking yourself. Life is a journey and landscapes change and people come and go, but you are always there.
You're 63 years old, but young people still gravitate to your label. Why is that?
That's the most flattering thing. The older I get the younger my customers get. I think it's because I really understand women. My clothes empower women. Not because they have big shoulders and make you look like a man. But because they are very comfortable, they mold to your body, they are very flexible, and they make you really comfortable. And if you're comfortable you feel confident. And if you're confident you feel beautiful.
When you visit Claridge's in the future will you stay in a suite that you designed?
Yes, of course. I only wear my own clothes. I will only sleep in my suite. If it's not good enough for me, why would it be good enough for anybody else?