Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Women We Love: Diana Vreeland

Hurricane Diana

I never understood the fuss about Diana Vreeland. Yes, she was lauded as a Great Fashion Editor. My experiences with good editors were that they knew how to get the job done calmly and cooly, inspiring others to do their best along the way. They didn't make a fuss, and for the most part toiled in silence (Helen Gurley Brown excepted). I knew of Diana's long tenure at Harper's Bazaar, her decampment to Vogue and her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. I had read her quirky bon mots in the "Why Don't You...?" columns collected from her days at Bazaar. I even enjoyed the autobiography, "D.V.", not knowing whether to believe all of it but enchanted anyways. It wasn't until I read the recent "The Eye Has to Travel" by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (her grandaughter-in-law) that I understood her greatness for what it was.

I have a feeling she never stopped talking

Diana (or Dee-Ah-Nah as she pronounced it) Vreeland was a force of nature. A true original, her enthusiasms knew no bounds. She believed in every amazing project she undertook or pronouncement she made. There was no stopping her, though a few tried (most notably Alexander Liberman at Vogue). Never a beauty herself, Diana nevertheless had Style and a 1,000 watt smile that could crack a safe. She knew style is unable to be purchased— let alone defined— but is a precious commodity. She believed in herself, which is beguiling in itself. She communicated whether by written word, actions or by Being There.

Lisa Immordino Vreeland never met her grandmother-in-law but great research and insight make Diana pop right off the pages. Imagine trying to find out about someone so important to your life whom you never knew? That task must have put those commercials to shame. I met Lisa this summer at a book signing for "The Eye Has to Travel" and was happy to tell her I shared the air with her grandmother during the time we both worked at Conde Nast.

The lady liked red

One thing in particular that I read surprised me. "Funny Face" was a 1957 Stanley Donen musical about a bookstore clerk (Audrey Hepburn) turned model/muse by a fashion photographer (Fred Astaire). His character is based on one of Diana's favorites, Richard Avedon. The editor of the fictional fashion magazine is played (a little over the top) by Kay Thompson. The opening scene has Kay and her assistants singing "Think Pink" while marching around the office. Evidently Diana was not amused, let alone flattered, and remarked after attending a screening, "Never to be discussed". I loved that movie and have probably seen it fifty times. It inspired me to become Audrey Hepburn and to work at a fashion magazine, only one of which I accomplished.

Flash forward to 1965.  "Glamour" and "Vogue" shared office space on the 19th floor of the Graybar Building at 420 Lexington in NYC (the other Conde Nast titles were on floors above and below). The only time I actually saw Diana Vreeland she was passing through the double doors into the Vogue office, followed by her minion of young women, hanging onto every word— just like the opening scene in "Funny Face".

"Pink is the navy blue of India."— Diana Vreeland

A documentary based on the book is due soon. The trailer looks delicious, and we get to hear Diana Vreeland speak. The release date is set for September 21. Do yourself a favor, though, and pick up a copy of "The Eye Has to Travel". It's a trip worth taking.

Lisa Vreeland: Grandmama would be proud


  1. I absolutely *love* your description of the time you saw Vreeland with her minions. It is exactly as I picture her.

  2. I'll take your suggestion. I think Diana Vreeland was fabulously chic and I would enjoy reading more about her. Who else could be chic and say "we all need a splash of bad taste"?