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"What day is it? - 'It's today' - squeaked Piglet. 'My favourite day' - said Pooh."- A.A. Milne

11 March 2013

You Gotta Have Style-Diana Vreeland's Eye


“There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know 
you want and you make it yourself,” 

For as long as I can remember I have inhaled fashion magazines.  At 5'1" on a good day I never had great expectations of wearing many of the clothes I saw in Harper's Bazaar or Vogue...but that wasn't really the point, the clothes were only a part of the reason that each month I curled up with the magazines.  The reason I looked forward to turning the pages was the opportunity to inhabit worlds that only existed in the minds of the most talented designers and photographers and editors-worlds that in most cases just allowed the clothes to play a role.  I can't say that about any magazine today.  In fact it is very hard to distinguish one magazine from the next and one issue from the last and magazines are simply not as much fun for me as they once were.  The magic of fashion magazine editorial stories, and the magazine's greatness, existed because of one woman-Diana Vreeland.
"Style - all who have it share one thing: originality"
 Diana Vreeland sitting in front of her famous portrait by William Acton

 Watching the recent documentary Diana Vreeland The Eye has to Travel- by her Granddaughter in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, I was once again enchanted by the force of nature that was Diana Vreeland.  She influenced the fashion world for over fifty years as fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, Editor at Vogue and Director of the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum in New York. 

 "You don't have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive."

 Mrs. Vreeland came of age in the roaring Twenties, a time and an age of enormous change for women and women's fashion-led of course by Coco Chanel who saw that women would require clothes that allowed them to move and travel and work.  "The world was alive with everything" and Mrs. Vreeland would carry that youthful exuberance, energy and thirst for new and exciting throughout her life.  She began by opening a lingerie business attracting clients such as Wallis Simpson-"my little lingerie shop bought down the throne"

 “You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.” 

Growing up her Mother told her she was an Ugly Duckling-she was never a beauty but she invented herself with a look that was distinctively her own-pitch black hair, bright red lips and nails, rouged cheeks... and became the center of any room she entered.  Perhaps because of her Mother's disdain for her looks Mrs. Vreeland brought non-traditional beauty to the pages of her magazines and turned models into celebrities and celebrities into models.  She had an eye for unusual style seeing what a camera would reveal and discovered and made icons of the the likes of Lauren Bacall, Angelica Huston, China Machado, Veruschka, Marisa Berenson, Penelope, Lauren Hutton, Twiggy...she pushed the flaws and  faults and celebrated imperfection as she did with an editorial spread on Barbra Streisand emphasizing  Streisand's famous nose. 

  Harper’s Bazaar, February 1960 photographer: Richard Avedon

“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. 
 You can see and feel everything in clothes.”

Before Diana Vreeland fashion magazines were filled with posed models and articles on how to bake a cake.  Mrs.Vreeland tossed all of that.  She was in fact a modern working woman, but she was also a visionary. She was creative and demanding and had the force of a tornado--a whirlwind of ideas and opinion and of course style-The Kay Thompson character in Funny Face was lovingly modeled after Diana Vreeland-a true force, at times threatening, awesome, fearless, extravagant and utterly enchanting. 

Mrs.  Vreeland with Richard Avedon and Dovima

Diana Vreeland invented the role of Fashion Editor with a taste for the extraordinary and the extreme- she would single handedly change fashion magazine editorial taking her readers to far away lands, bringing them romance, fantasy and great style within the pages of the layouts that told would tell stories.  These featured  editorial pieces were done with no care for expense and shot by amazing and now legendary names -Richard Avedon, Lillian Bassman, Patrick Litchfield, David Bailey...

Veruschka in a fur hood by Giorgio di Sant'Angelo in Vogue, July 1968.

 “I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me — projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. 
  Creativity and curiosity oozed from every inch of her- the world was her real editorial staff  and she filled her magazines with what excited and her, what she saw as the next thing, and what she imagined the world could and should be.  Not just fashion, but politics,art,music, film, theatre literature, architecture, philosophy... presented with HER view in the pages of HER Vogue. Mrs. Vreeland's December issues were a celebration, a true feast for the eyes- everything and anything that thrilled her was included...  as always there was  fantasy and the exotic taking the readers places they would never otherwise imagine or experience without Diana Vreeland.
Dovima with elephants by Richard Avedon, 1955

In 1947 she brought the bikini to the fashion pages-her staff was shocked and she told them "...with an attitude like that you keep civilization back a thousand years."
She loved a revolution and in the 1960s she had one to embrace and celebrate in the pages of Vogue  She brought the look and energy of the streets of London where she saw the future of style taking shape-Twiggy, Mick Jagger... the "youthquake" influence of music and film, photographers and models--the 60s for her were like the twenties of her own youth had been- an upheaval in society and she brought the new  global influence to her pages seeing style and fashion in all of it.

 “Vogue always did stand for people’s lives. I mean, a new dress doesn’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."

Blackglama Mink "What Becomes A Legend Most" Ad Campaign (1977)

 "You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It's a way of life. Without it, you're nobody."
 At the age of 70 Vogue let her go-she was lost  and depressed without the  all encompassing world she had left and then she  received a call to become a consultant at The Metropolitan Musuem of art-her friends raied the funds for her work at the Costume Institute.  There  she breathed energy and life into the dusty  archives as she shocked the curators who looked on with horror while Mrs Vreeland  yanked and tossed fragile costume pieces everywhere as if they were contact sheets she was organizing for a magazine spread-she brought  her editorial eye to the rooms of The Met and not for the first time pushed a few noses out of joint.  She created "layouts" at the museum displaying the costume and fashion pieces in ways to tell stories but now those stories were live.   The "show" was the thing,  fashion history was now an event and accessible.  She removed the stuffiness and the academia, and maybe even some of the accuracy, and opened the doors to the fantasy and magic of history.  Once again, as it had been in her magazine years, it was all about the story and the vision -the romance the intrigue...--Diana Vreeland editorialized the Met's collections and brought them to life as she brought people through the doors who may have never entered the museum before and certainly not with the interest and expectation that a Diana Vreeland exhibit held. In doing so she raised fashion design to art, celebrating designers which now museums all over the world do, but her exhibit of Yves Saint Laurent's work was the first to do so.
" I believe in the dream... I believe we only live through our dreams and our imagination that is the only reality we ever really know."

Diana Vreeland-the Eye has to Travel  is now available on DVD and there is a companion book -it is a wonderful celebration of a woman who was truly one of a kind, a woman who would changed not only fashion publishing, but also the definition of style.   The film is filled with colorful imaginative stories from her sons,designers, photographers, her staff, collaborators and Mrs. Vreeland herself in interviews with Jane Pauley, Dick Cavett, Diane Sawyer and George Plimpton who she chose to edit her memoir ...many of the stories may have been "embellished" but coming from the Empress Vreeland -who cares!  Such fun!

 “To be contented—that’s for the cows.”