• Motto

Diane von Furstenberg’s Hero Has Nothing to Do With Fashion

5 minute read

Jane Goodall is Diane von Furstenberg’s “hero.”

Von Furstenberg will award the primatologist with the Lifetime Leadership Award at her eighth annual DVF Awards ceremony. “She’s been a hero of mine for a long, long time,” the designer told Motto.

Goodall is one of five women who will be honored at the event, to be held at the United Nations as part of the Women in the World Summit. Past winners of the Lifetime Leadership Award include Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem.

The Inspiration Award, previously given to Gabrielle Giffords and Alicia Keys, will go to model and Kode with Klossy founder Karlie Kloss. “I’ve known her since she was 15, and she has become such a role model for young girls,” von Furstenberg said. Additional awards will be given to Louise Dubé, executive director of civics education organization iCivics, Baljeet Sandhu, founding director of the U.K.’s Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit, and Yoani Sánchez, an advocate for free press in Cuba. Each honoree will receive $50,000 for her cause.

“Those women make me feel that I yet haven’t done anything,” von Furstenberg said. “It’s so humbling.”

Motto spoke with von Furstenberg about her focus on mentorship and how she reminds herself of her own strength.

What do you consider to be the most important issue facing women right now?

The most important thing for women is for them to be confident, and to remind themselves that they are strong. This is what this evening and these prizes are about — to use my voice for people who have no voice, and to remind people how strong women are and how much they can affect and improve our society.

Has your idea of what makes a strong woman changed over the years?

I have never met a woman who is not strong. All women are strong. But sometimes they forget, and we have to remind them. It’s very important that you think about the woman you can be, and the woman you want to be. Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t be feminine, it doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy. And you don’t have to show your strength at all times — but you have to know it’s there.

How do you remind yourself of your own strength?

This is what I remind myself when I don’t feel strong — listen: ‘If you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.’ That’s what you remember. It’s a good one — I read it about two years ago. You speak it to yourself, ‘OK: If I doubt my power, I give power to my doubt.’ That’s my gift to you.

Who have your mentors been, and what advice do you have for women seeking out mentors?

My mother and all the women I meet in my philanthropy and that I honor. The man who I worked for originally, Angelo Ferretti, who taught me everything about my business, about printing and knitting. Sometimes it’s somebody that you absolutely never thought it would be. I never in a million years thought that this man, when he invited me to be an intern and to work in his factory, would have such an impact on my life.

You have recently taken a step back from your business. How has that felt?

I have hired Jonathan Saunders to be the chief creative officer to refresh the brand and be at the helm, and I love it. I’m still a little bit there — I want him to succeed, so I want him to use me as much as he needs to use me, but it’s a great thing, because I really want to focus my next act on using my voice and mentoring.

What does mentoring others mean to you?

I get asked to speak a lot, and I really enjoy that, because sometimes you give a word to somebody and you make a difference. Like the words I just gave you. The next time you are depressed and discouraged, you’ll think of them and you’ll think, “Oh, yeah: Diane.”

Is there anything you haven’t achieved but want to?

There are things I’d love to do that I probably never will, because I don’t have the time. There are a lot of books I have on my table that I want to read, lots of things I want to learn. I am very engaged. Very. I should be 150, because I have lived so fully.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Lucy Feldman at lucy.feldman@time.com