HBO's 'Liberty: Mother of Exiles' Proves Diane von Fürstenberg Is the Godmother of the Statue of Liberty

Diane von Fürstenberg has many labels: fashion tycoon, the queen of the wrap dress, or as Newsweek famously coined her in a 1976 cover story, "the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel." But now she has a new title: the godmother of the Statue of Liberty. It's for her work spearheading the fundraising campaign and creation of the new Statue of Liberty museum on New York's Liberty Island, documented in the new HBO film Liberty: Mother of Exiles.

"I didn't expect to be in the movie," von Fürstenberg told Newsweek. But it quickly became apparent von Fürstenberg was essential to the heart of the film.

"DVF [von Fürstenberg's initials] was integral to tell the story," Fenton Bailey, who directed the documentary with Randy Barbato, said. An HBO film, it was produced by Bailey and Barbato's production company World of Wonder, best known for RuPaul's Drag Race.

HBO’s ‘Liberty: Mother of Exiles’ Proves Diane von Fürstenberg Truly is the Godmother of the Statue of Liberty
Diane von Fürstenberg in the HBO documentary, 'Liberty: Mother of Exiles,' directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Courtesy of HBO

The film follows von Fürstenberg overseeing the creation of the museum. Along the way, she discovers the stories not only of the statue's creator, French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, but also the immigrant narratives of so many people who work on Liberty Island and even the construction workers who built the new museum. Their stories are interwoven throughout, each subject sharing a personal story of their family's journey to the United States.

Considering von Fürstenberg's prolific career in fashion and business, the way she's able to connect with seemingly everyone—from millionaire donors of the project to the construction workers building the museum—is particularly touching in the film.

At one point von Fürstenberg can be seen approaching a street artist, a Russian immigrant who specializes in Statue of Liberty art, and asks him to screenprint on von Fürstenberg totes. Because these two come from two very different worlds, one wouldn't think there would be any connection, but the opposite is true. The artist and von Fürstenberg speak with candor. It's the soft spot von Fürstenberg has for immigrants that is the root of this candor, and it started with the Statue of Liberty.

HBO’s ‘Liberty: Mother of Exiles’ Proves Diane von Fürstenberg Truly is the Godmother of the Statue of Liberty
Diane von Furstenberg (R) speaks with Lawrence Larson (L) in the HBO documentary film, 'Liberty: Mother of Exiles,' directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Courtesy of HBO

"The Statue of Liberty has always been a dream for immigrants," she said. "I have a sensitivity for immigrants. People come with a dream. That's what this country is built on."

It's this immigrant dream and the values of the Statue of Liberty that provide the main narrative of the film. It's what the directors hope people ultimately take from the movie.

"'We hope people see that and that they can open their hearts to the huddled masses and wretched refuse," Bailey said. "We need open arms, not building walls. The wretched refused is not an infestation or an invasion. But they are individuals like us. They are 'we, the people,' ordinary people capable of making an extraordinary difference."

HBO’s ‘Liberty: Mother of Exiles’ Proves Diane von Fürstenberg Truly is the Godmother of the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is seen in the new HBO documentary film, 'Liberty: Mother of Exiles,' directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Courtesy of HBO

Even though von Fürstenberg has long taken inspiration from Lady Liberty, there's one thing about her she didn't glean inspiration from. When asked if the robe worn by Lady Liberty was in any way an inspiration for von Fürstenberg's wrap dress, the fashion designer quickly responded, "absolutely not."

Liberty: Mother of Exiles is currently available on HBO and HBO NOW. The museum at the Statue of Liberty is currently open to the public.

HBO's 'Liberty: Mother of Exiles' Proves Diane von Fürstenberg Is the Godmother of the Statue of Liberty | Culture