If only they could have seen her at last night’s 7th annual DVF awards at the United Nations in New York, where she was not just a fashion diva—wearing a shimmery diaphanous gold dress and gold-and-emerald rings—but an effervescent, salt of the earth role model and matriarch.
The awards honor extraordinary women who “have had the courage to fight, the power to survive and the leadership to inspire,” and who use their resources and visibility to help other women. Honorees receive $50,000 to support the activist organization with which they’re affiliated.
The International Award is one of two awards given to women within Vital Voices’ Global Leadership Network who are improving the social, economic, and political positions of women in their countries. The People’s Voice Award is chosen by popular vote on DVFAwards.com.
Speaking to a phalanx of mostly young female reporters before the ceremony, von Furstenberg was warm and unflappable, like your effortlessly chic great aunt who imparts unsolicited advice as she tenderly brushes a strand of hair from your face.
“I have really grown to love these women and girls,” von Furstenberg said of the DVF Awards’ recipients since the Awards were created in 2010 by the Diller-von-Furstenberg Family Foundation. (Full disclosure: von Furstenberg’s husband, Barry Diller, owns The Daily Beast’s parent company.)
“They become part of my family, and they make me feel so humble. I feel like I don’t have anything to teach them, really, but I’m glad I can give them exposure—and money,” she said with a wink before embracing actress Allison Williams, better known as Marnie in Girls.
“She’s desperate to make everyone around her pregnant,” Williams joked of von Furstenberg, adding that the pressure is on now that she’s married. “She just wants everyone to have babies.”
Williams was “very nervous” to present the Inspiration Award to Sarah Jones, the Tony and Obie Award-winning playwright, actress, and UNICEF goodwill ambassador to the UN. “She is the embodiment of what this night stands for,” Williams enthused.
Known for rapidly switching from one ethnically diverse role to another in her one-woman shows, Jones accepted her award in character—several of them, from an elderly Jewish lady to an Indian woman who “has been wrapping the Sari for years,” she said in a wink to DVF’s infamous dress, eliciting howls from the audience. Gail Sheehy gingerly dabbed tears of laughter with a cocktail napkin.
There were few dry eyes in the room when Agnes Igoye, who has rescued countless girls and women from trafficking on the border of Uganda, gave an emotional acceptance speech for the International Award. She thanked Vital Voices for “coming to the front lines—that’s where you found me.
“The front lines can be a very lonely place if you’re not supported,” she said, explaining that the best way to fight powerful trafficker networks is with “our own network of empowered women. With this award, I’m no longer lonely.”
Von Furstenberg presented Dr. Martine Rothblatt with this year’s Lifetime Leadership Award, introducing her as “a woman for whom impossible does not exist.”
Indeed, when Rothblatt learned that her 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, pulmonary hypertension, she left her career as a lawyer-businesswoman (she created SiriusXM radio) and set out to develop an FDA-approved drug to treat the disease.
As a transgender woman, she has also advocated for the LGBT and trans communities as well as the empowerment of women and girls everywhere. She came out as a woman in 1994 at the age of 40, when she was still CEO at SiriusXM.
“I don't really know how to put into words what it feels like for a transgender woman to be honored as a woman [here tonight]” Rothblatt said. “We are just women who have been brought up as men. We are proud to be women and we want to shine as women.”
Von Furstenberg wrote in her memoir that, as a young woman, she’d wanted to live a man’s life in a woman’s body. With her help, the women honored last night no longer need make that distinction.