Arts

By Laura Werling

Diana in the Vogue office. Photo courtesy of http://www.dianavreeland-film.com/caption

Diana Vreeland’s career has inspired many, but it was her way of living life that has captured my attention. Vreeland (1903-1989) has always been more than just an inspiration to me; she had a wild imagination and passion for living every moment in life to the fullest that was so vibrant and shows through all of her legendary work. She decided at a young age that she could make her life exactly how she wanted it to be, no matter what the circumstances. “There’s only one good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it for yourself,” Diana once said. Not only was she making history in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, but she lived as if each day was her last, making friends and working with the most influential people of the time, including the discovery of Twiggy and advising Jackie Onassis. “To say Diana Vreeland has dealt only with fashion trivializes what she has done. She has commented on the times in a wise a witty manner. She has lived a life,” Onassis said. Vreeland wholeheartedly devoted herself to the idea that she, or anyone, can make their life as interesting and fabulous as possible. This brilliant documentary, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, chronicles her career and life as one of the most influential women of the 20th century. The film was directed and produced by Vreeland’s grandson’s wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, which gave the film a unique intimacy.

The film shows us interviews of family, friends, and acquaintances who knew Vreeland and worked with her; these intimate discussions and reflections of her life are what give us an inside look into her life and personality. The documentary is the narration to the story of a remarkable life, and even viewers not involved in the fashion industry can appreciate Diana’s impact on the world in a time of change and revolution. Her work has shaped the way arts, culture, fashion, music, and film is portrayed to the public and has enriched and expanded the minds of so many. In the peak of her career, she was called the “Empress of Fashion”, and was the brains behind countless fashion revolutions from the bikini to the blue jean.

To understand her outlook on life and how she came to be the fascinating person she was, the film starts off showing us her roots and describes her childhood. As a child, Diana lived in Paris with her parents during the Belle Epoque. Her parents were worldly, cultured people who kept the company of the glamorous, eccentric people of the era. Her relationship with her mother was not a good one; her mother, an American beauty, made Diana feel unloved and insecure of her less than perfect looks. Diana was an unusual looking person, and said “I was always her ugly little monster.” In the beginning of World War I, Diana and her parents moved back to America and Diana had to learn English, which caused her to develop a stutter and fail out of school. She finally found a true passion as a young teen in dance, which she truly loved and felt set her free. If Diana was ever insecure about her looks, it never brought her down. Instead, she created a world in which originality and style were premier. Her persona became extraordinarily fabulous, with an incredible zest for each moment in life. Everything was a fabulous adventure.

Then, at age 19, Diana met the love of her life, Reed Vreeland, and they started a life together in London. They traveled all over Europe together, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Rome. This is when Diana’s love of couture blossomed and cultivated friendships with all of the couturiers in Paris. Diana’s career in fashion began when Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow noticed her at a party for her unique and original look. Snow offered Diana the position of fashion editor in New York, and it was in this position that she started the “Why Don’t You…?” column, which suggested ideas to readers for living stylishly and daringly, such as “Why don’t you rinse your blond child’s hair in champagne to keep its gold?” With Diana’s free spirited imagination, she filled the pages of Bazaar with beautiful photos and stories, with the help of photographer and friend Richard Avedon. Avedon said, “she was and remains the only genius fashion editor.”

“Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.”
–Diana Vreeland

After twenty-five years at Harper’s Bazaar, creating legendary stories and changing the industry of fashion, Vreeland made the move over to Vogue to become the Editor in Chief. At this point in her career, it was the swinging sixties and women’s role in the youth revolution was rapidly increasing. Things were changing, and Diana embraced all that this new era had to offer. Being different and unique was more important than ever and was celebrated in the pages of Vogue. “You could have a bump on your nose, it made no difference it made no difference so long as you had a marvelous body and carriage.” Vogue became a new, youthful, exciting magazine bursting with the latest in fashion, music, art, and film. It became a lifestyle guide for all types of women, full of ideas and inspiration for living a sophisticated, cultured, and exciting modern life. She would travel all over the world to capture revolutionary fashion moments in the most exotic and interesting places. She seemed to be at the right place at the right time most of her life, following the biggest cultural changes in the world and placing herself right in the center of it all. She grew up in Paris during the Belle Epoque, lived in New York during the roaring 20’s, and lived in London in the youthquake of the 60’s. Vreeland was a living legend, an arbiter of style in every aspect of life. Her wild imagination had found a place to flourish and be celebrated.

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 lived before, and what you will do in it later.” –Diana Vreeland

In a shocking turn of events, Diana was fired from Vogue in 1971, shortly after the death of her beloved husband. These sudden changes in her life turned her world upside down; people said she was so distraught, she stayed in bed for a year. But an opportunity arose that couldn’t have been more perfectly suited for her. Vreeland started working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, which she effortlessly brought back to life. Her natural flare for drama and vivid imagination helped her create elaborate exhibits highlighting the history of fashion in ways never seen before. She made the Costume Institute a place where visitors could escape into a historical fantasy, and made the subject of costume history more intriguing and interesting than ever.

The documentary has told the story of one of the most significant lives in the fashion industry. Diana Vreeland’s fascinating life and career has inspired so many to look beyond everyday life and inspire the freedom of imagination. She reminds us to make our lives our own and be whomever we wish to be no matter what. Her passion and creativity live on in her famous pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and continue to inspire us to this day. I highly recommend the film; it is a truly uplifting experience. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is playing in theaters all over America. Check out the film’s website, http://www.dianavreeland-film.com/, for details.

Originally published October 2012
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