Diana Vreeland was the Queen Bee of Fashion: a Demi-God of Style who reigned supremely from her different ‘thrones’ of power for five decades and single-handedly changed the way women dressed. You may think that a brash statement but it is totally befitting of this large-than-life style maverick whose influence at the helm of both Harpers and Vogue was matched by her outlandish statements andopinions. To Ms. Vreeland, everything was black and white: there was no grey.
This wonderful tribute documentary by LisaImmordino Vreeland (the wife of her grandson) pieces together some of the parts of her life. I add some of the parts because besides from the ‘big jobs’ that she was renowned for, the movie uncovered a wealth of facts about her life that are totally surprising and that she barely touched on. There are far too many to list here but Ms. Vreeland claims to have gone shooting with Buffalo Bill (‘marvelous fella’) in the Rockies when she was a kid; danced with the Tiller Girls (the UK’s Rockettes) in the 1930’s; sold Wallis Simpson some couturelingerie for a weekend with the King; waved to Lindbergh as he flew over her house on his famous flight etc etc. When one of the Vreeland son’s (now in his 80’s) added that he knew for sure that last fact was not true as their house was not on his fight path, he confessed that his mother loved to improve her stories which he simply called ‘faction’.
Born in Paris to an American socialite and a British businessman Diana lived in Europe until the outbreak of World War 1, but even when the family settled back in the US, Paris would always be her first love. She married Reed Vreeland, a Banker in 1922 and they lived in London until 1937 in which time she made her mark in British society, although she always claims that the best thing about living in London was … Paris …especially as she was getting her clothes fitted personally by Mlle Chanel.
Back in New York she caught the eye of legendary magazine editor Carmel Snow who offered her the job of writing what turned out to be an outrageous column called ‘Why Don’t You’… imposing her own somewhat outlandish take on fashion on the hapless readers of Harpers.
Her life then really took off… she met Richard Avedon who she worked with for the next 40 years, and he was just one of the many fashion heavyweights that she collaborated with over the next five decades. As evidenced in detail by the film, the work that she produced there as Editor, and then in the top seat at Vogue was outstandingly wonderful. She threw the rule book out of the window on every single aspect of doing fashion spreads and the pages of her magazines were crammed full of stunning photography shot in exotic places which were simply beautiful works of art.
More importantly what the movie so accurately portrays is that these were not just pictures of clothes but real visionary concepts that placed fashion in context with the remarkable world that she wanted people to relish and enjoy.
They were extravagant pieces and having no interest in keeping an eye on the bottom line or appeasing advertisers (like the Ms. Wintour of today’s world does to the detriment of magazines) cost Ms. Vreeland her job at Vogue.
Bereft at 70 years old and totally unwilling to even think about retiring she leapt at the chance the Metropolitan Museum offered to run the Costume Institute. The amazing success she achieved there over her years at the helm is well documented and dealt with in the film, and what was particularly enjoyable were the behind the scenes stories like how she commissioned a hapless assistant to make a pompadour wig with a frigate in it and demanded it ‘bigger and bigger’.
Her sons found her distant, fashion industry notables (such as Oscar De la Renta, Calvin Klein, Manolo Blahnik) adored and respected her, and her staff feared her. She was in every sense of the word a real diva and a fashion icon and her legacy is how she made people think outside of the box in terms of style and how she always invested her joie de vivre in it at all times.
Bruce Weber had attempted to film a memoir on Diana V before, and now that Lisa Immordino Vreeland has succeeded at last, and so brilliantly, anybody with the tiniest inkling for style should be indebted to her. The only regret is that we wish we could see all the material that never made the final cut as we are sure that there are a whole wealth of more hilarious anecdotes and eccentric quotes.
P.S.In the 1995 film ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar‘, drag queen Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) gives a copy of Vreeland’s autobiography to a thrift-store clerk and tells him to “commit sections to memory.” Later, the clerk quotes a passage that reads “That season we were loaded with pizazz. Earrings of fuchsia and peach. Mind you, peach. And hats. Hats, Hats, Hats, for career girls. How Iadored Paris.”