1960s Icon Ira von Furstenberg on her Extraordinary Life

By Martin Dean
Ahead of the publication of her biography, the legendary European socialite, actress and 1960s icon Ira von Furstenberg talked to Sotheby's about her fascinating life.

There are many stories about Salvador Dali's desire to paint you. How did he attempt to persuade you, and were you ever tempted?

He wanted me to have a nude artistic painting. I was not tempted at all, since I was a little girl who just got married and was still in the honeymoon stage.

How does the art world of today compare to the art world of the 1960s and 1970s?

I think in the 1960s and 70s, everyone was connected not only as artists but as friends, unlike nowadays. It seems that it is the galleries who are now promoting the artists with not such a direct connection as before.

Front cover of Ira: The Life and Times of a Princess by Nicholas Foulkes

You are widely regarded as having lived an adventurous and colourful life, full of glamour and creativity. If you were to choose one anecdote or memory that encapsulates that, what would it be?

When I was living in London, I was very friendly with Heini Thyssen (Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza), who was to be painted by the famous Lucien Freud, and he said that the worst part was to pose with his fingers outstretched, as he had to stay that way for a long time to finish the painting.

Tell us more about your friendship with Karl Lagerfeld. What was it that brought you together, and how did it develop?

The friendship with Karl started when he was still working for Chloé, and in those days I still had the big house in Geneva. He used to like that house – he would come for weekends and go around and about, and he knew a little bit about Switzerland. From then on, every time I went to Paris, I went to visit him; he dressed me for some events and we would do dinners together. I must say that he was very a generous, and at the same time, very amusing man.

How is the world different for women in 2019?

I think that today, women are more career oriented and more serious. Unlike my time, when we had a good time.

You were first photographed by Cecil Beaton at a young age, and your first marriage took place when you were 15. Do you wish you could have had a few more years out of the public eye, or did you enjoy being so celebrated so early on?

When you fall in your life, you just have to accept it, and go with it…

In many ways, your image is synonymous with 1960s culture and glamour. How did it feel to be part of that cultural moment, and to play the role you did?

I love glamour and beautiful things. I grew up with it, and still today, I like beautiful things and I like glamorous people. It is a part of me!

You were an actress from the 1960s to the 1980s. What are your fondest memories, or best stories from this time?

I had a great time being an actress. I may not have been that successful, but I had a great time with my wonderful partners, and stories of that time are so many that I cannot remember.

How do you feel about collecting art, and what advice do you have for those looking to begin a collection?

Just buy what you like... just buy what you enjoy. I was in Africa, and I saw a painting that was so beautiful, I fell for it.

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