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The Princess Diaries
THE NEW FACE OF A FASHION EMPIRE


THE PRINCESS DIARIES

Inside the charmed life of Alexandra von Furstenberg

By Laurie Brookins  Portrait by Roger Moenks and Laurent Alfieri

You can't get much closer to a modern-day fairy tale than the life of Alexandra von Furstenberg.  But don't ascribe any of the labels that the New York tabloids almost gleefully attach to her name: Princess, Fashionista, It Girl.  Rather, after spending a few minutes with von Furstenberg in her West Village office, it's easy to guess the title she prefers: Working mom.

It's a decidedly unglamorous description for a woman who's the globetrotting daughter of Chantal and Robert Miller, the duty-free tycoon, and who was the ultimate fantasy bride when she married Alexandre von Furstenberg whose parents are Germany's Prince Egon von Furstenberg and fashion design legend Diane von Furstenberg.  Indeed, it might be effortless to trade on the notoriety of being a Miller sister-the triumvirate a A-list fabulousness that is Alexandra, Marie-Chantal and Pia-or being related by marriage to both German and fashion royalty.  But you can measure just how grounded Alexandra is when she quickly downplays pedigree in favor of noting that she and Alex were childhood sweethearts; in fact, you need only mention her husband and children to draw a wide smile out of the blonde beauty.

"I turned 30 last year," von Furstenberg recalls, "and all my friends wee kidding me, saying, "Don't you feel so old?'  And all I could think about was the fact that I have two beautiful, healthy children and a loving husband and a career I adore.  It might be cliché, but I have everything I've ever wanted."

"Everything" includes that high-profile career as image director for the Diane von Furstenberg label, a position that ranges from offering input on the designer's line to conceptualizing the retail venues-the latest opened in January at the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables-to overseeing a cosmetics line set to bow this fall.  "Working for my mother-in-law was the last thing I thought I'd be doing-I always thought I'd end up working at a magazine," says Alexandra, who studied fashion at New York's Parsons School of Design, then transferred to Brown to study both art history and be near Alexandre.

She met her dark-haired prince when she was 14 and he was 17.  "He was (Marie-Chantal's) friend; meanwhile, I was the baby of the bunch and always hung out with my older sisters and their friends," she remembers.  "Of course, at 14 you just idolize your older sisters' friends, and I remember thinking he was so good-looking.  But as the little sister I was kind of ignored."

For four years they would meet occasionally at a friends house or on an elevator, and he would teasingly flirt with her.  "I was convinced it was because I was the little sister." she says.  When Alexandra turned 18, Alexandre asked for a date; in 1995, when she was 23, they were married.  Was it destiny that these two Alexes found each other? "I always knew he was the one," she says.

Not long after the wedding, the newlyweds were at Diane von Furstenberg's country home in Litchfield County, Connecticut.  At the same time Alexandra had been mulling over career choices, she noticed that all her friends were sporting von Furstenberg's famed wrap dresses, which had been a fashion mainstay during Studio 54's heyday and now were being bought by the bundle from vintage shops.  "I knew it was just a matter of time before someone started knocking them off, so during that weekend we had a very casual conversation about bringing them back," Alexandra says.

At the time, the designer (for DVF, as she's been known to bother family and friends) was working with QVC and Home Shopping Network-a far cry from the white-hot tents of Bryant Park, but lucrative nonetheless.  Still, when her new daughter-in-law proposed relaunching the label, DVF had one answer: "Only if you do it with me."

Nearly seven years later, it seems as though Diane von Furstenberg has never been off fashion's radar.  That's partly due to the ideas that Alexandra brings to the table, from contributing her thoughts to each collection ("With 100 pieces, there's room for a lot of conversation and compromise," she says) to working with architects to both design the Coral Gables boutique and reconfigure the West Village space.  As a result, a large part of what the DVF label represents today is rooted in the bond these two women share.  "I know we've influenced each other," Alexandra says.  "I know she admires my taste, and I see that reflected in the line.  And I admire so much about her, as a businesswoman, a mother and a friend."

Perhaps because her mother-in-law is so much in the spotlight, Alexandra is quick to mention the other major influence in her life.  In her office, she points to two large B&W photographs of her children, daughter Talita, 3 and son Tassilio, 1.  "My mother took those photos," Alexandra says proudly.  "She really is an amazing woman, so talented in many ways.  Our wedding, for example, was my total fantasy come to life, and my mother had everything to do with making that happen."

With two such strong women as her guides, it's easy to see from where Alexandra draws her life lessons.  "Having children makes you more grounded and definitely makes you rearrange your priorities, " she says.  That is why Alexandra drops Talita off at school every morning and tries to be there every afternoon if work permits.

On weekends, it's birthday parties and children's fundraisers, rather than the A-list events that draw the attention of "Suzy" or "Page Six."  "In this city you could go to a benefit every night of the week," she says.  "Alot of those women are there for the wrong reasons.  I'd rather participate in those areas discreetly, and then have the time to spend with my friends and family."

In other words, Alexandra is completely content to let someone else embrace the glamour-she'll take the job and the home and the husband and the kids any day.  As she muses on her life, she says, "I'm exactly what I hoped I would be."