I’ve had a lovely little DVD sitting next to my television for ages now: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. And I can’t believe I waited this long to watch it.
It was no easy feat to pay homage to the whirlwind that was Vreeland – former fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and editor-in-chief of Vogue – and her tour-de-force approach to the fashion world. But her grand-daughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, has produced an honest, charming portrait of a lady I now cannot learn enough about.
The documentary centers around recorded conversations Vreeland had when preparing her biography DV with George Plimpton. Diana had that way of speaking – similar to how my grandparents spoke – that harkens back to times of privilege in the early 1900s. But her storytelling is unique:
She tells tales of how she grew up in Paris, surrounded by ballet dancers her parents invited over for dinner. She posits the only proper education she ever got was from dancing. She raves about seeing King George V’s coronation and gushes about horses. She falls in love with the 1920s and, at the same time, with her husband Thomas Vreeland. She “takes credit” for the fall of the British Empire because Wallis Simpson bought lingerie in her shop in London before a weekend away with the King. She befriends Coco Chanel and is offered a job at Harper’s Bazaar after being spotted fashionably dressed at a party.
She never sees the “big deal” about a women having a career and refuses to understand the word feminism. Yet she seemingly struggles with being a mother. She advises Jackie Kennedy and is the reason behind the new Presidential couple’s famous portrait in Harper’s Bazaar. She discovers Lauren Bacall and has Ali McGraw as her (from the sounds of it, slightly bitter) assistant. She raves about Mick Jaggar : “those lips!” She helps launch the careers of Diane von Furstenberg, Manolo Blanik and Oscar de la Renta. She stays in her bathrobe until noon every day, typing scores of memos “instructing” her team on what would appear in the next issue. She has a crush on Jack Nicholson. She asks who would want to live in a world without leopards. She thinks blue jeans are the most beautiful things she’s ever seen and talks about how she would have loved to be a surfer. All while avoiding the fact that her mother referred to her as an ugly duckling growing up…
Money was no object when it came to her fashion editorials and she took the fashion business to a new dimension beyond clothing – sending her models and photographers around the globe and enlisting celebrities as models. In what might be the best quote of the film, Vreeland states “Vogue always did stand for people’s lives…I mean, a dress won’t get you anywhere, it’s the life you’re living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later.”
She was fired from Vogue in 1971 but luckily for the heritage of fashion houses everywhere, was recruited to run the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Somewhat controversially, she hosted the first exhibition of a living designer: Yves St Laurent. And she was always too heartbroken at the end of an exhibition to be present when it was taken down…
If you can’t already tell, I loved this film. And am now searching for issues of Vogue from the 1960s.
For more information on Vreeland, browse her estate’s fabulous website, read this NYMagazine feature “The Divine Mrs V” and Vanity Fair’s “The Cult of Diana”.
Photo 1: Diana Vreeland in Paris in 1971 by Christian Avril / Photo 2: Via CNN, courtesy of the Estate of James P Karales