Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
Directors: Lisa Immerdino Vreeland and Bent-Jorgan Perlmutt
Based on the memoires of Diana Vreeland.
I recommend this movie. I recommend this movie on a cold day on the couch when you don’t want to seem to get out of your pajamas. The story of Diana Vreeland is one of excitement, color, and making life your own. I had forgotten this joie de vivre momentarily. Or rather had forgotten that life can be mingled with fantasy to incredible ends. This visual memoire is a great reminder.
Diana Vreeland: the Eye Has to Travel tells Diana’s story with her own words and the words of those closest to her. It describes the greatest parts about her and the reasons she is famous. It is balanced as well, hinting at the areas of her life that were not as exceptional but not dwelling on them. The result is a balanced and complete view of her life and a reminder of the greatness that life can be.
Spoiler Alert!!! Synopsis:
Diana Vreeland (pronounced Dee-anna) was born in Paris during the Belle Epoque. Born to a beautiful woman and “a very British” father. Her mother used to tell Diana, “Too bad for you that you have such a beautiful sister and you’re so very ugly,” and her father did not allow much emotion. What her childhood lacked in nurture, it was filled with excitement from the start. These themes emerged through her life.
“My education was the world.” Diana described the Belle Époque as being full of excitement. She loved the Ballet Russes. Both to watch and in life as her parents were good friends with the dancers. When Diana was 10 years old the family moved to New York. She saw the country and out west met Buffalo Bill. She described him as beautiful and had great adventure in a new land. While there was great adventure she did not have an easy time. Diana could not speak English and did not do well in school. They moved her to a Russian school. She indicated she did not need to speak. All she did was dance. It was here that she learned, “If I was going to make it I was going to have to stand out.” Her name then was Dalziel Gaelic for “I dare.” And she dared.
“You have to be alone in your suffering in youth,” said Diana. Until one day you wake up and see the light. For Diana, this awakening came in the roaring 20s’ the favorite time of her life. She recollected people saw her as fast but she didn’t care. “Never before did women wear exposed backs, or dressed cut off at the knee.” She remembered of Josephine Baker that she was the only one that stood out in the chorus line, “She had that pizzazz.” It was a time of excitement; a time when being different was beginning to be celebrated.
Diana was never comfortable about her looks until she met Reed Vreeland. She described him as very elegant, and it was love at first sight. He took her to London just before the market crash of 1929. She described London as the first place she truly learned English. She also described, “the best thing about London” as being Paris, “It was raining all the time. People danced with strangers… It was hideous and Marvelous.”
In Paris she began her introduction to clothes. She adored Coco Chanel and felt she was the word on style. Coco would personally complete fittings for Diana. On this process Diana commented, “I adored fittings. I would go to three fittings for a night gown.” Diana then started her own shop for ladies undergarments. She commented that she fitted Ms Wallis Simpson for three nightgowns for a weekend getaway. It was after this getaway that Edward abdicated his claim to the thrown in lieu of giving up Ms Simpson. Whether it was the nightgown that brought down the crown is hearsay but Diana’s affair with clothing and style was long confirmed.
Diana and Reed had two sons and moved back to the US. Diana described her family life as not very exciting. She glazed over questions about her children. Redirecting the conversation to tidbits of historical grandeur. Her son’s described her as a horrible mother. So focused on being different, to be average was not acceptable. They wished for their mother to be more motherly. The relationship with Reed was described as one of a dancers partner, supportive and catching her when she needed but letting her freedom to dance as she pleased. It is implied, as a mother she lacked the nurturing she received as a child.
“Money is vital” Diana felt and she went to work because they never had much of it. She was discovered at a party for her fashionable dress. She had never worked a day in her life. “Why don’t you try it?” She was enticed to join Harpers Bazaar and stared writing “Why don’t you…” in the midst of a recession throwing out ideas that were adventurous, perhaps even frivolous, to take people away. Her writing, like her comments, appeared not to be edited but where rhythmic and a surprise. She rejoiced in working.
She was made fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar and was attributed with contributing “imagination and an original point of view.” Here she highlighted the fashion of the time as well as made it. She brought her view of the world to the magazine and focused on taking the reader around the world through the pages. “Before she came in magazines were all about pie and how to fit in… but Diana said ‘pie, who cares about pie when there’s Russia.’” Angelica Houston. She provided adventure and fantasy.
Not an easy woman to work for Diana was described as “threatening, and awesome.” She would disagree with this point, “I am easy to work with, I’m charming but I expect people to work as hard as I do.” She discovered people and started their careers. She was particular and didn’t provide instructions but described a way of thinking and let them run with it. Only relenting when the finished product matched her vision. “Even if you’re wearing close toes and boots your toe nails need to be perfect. Maybe it would make you walk differently?” One model described her approach to details. She was demanding but in being so encouraged greatness.
“Diana was fashion” and after years of working at Harpers Bazaar without advancement nor barely a raise she listened when Vogue offered her a position. As editor at Vogue in the 1960’s she found another revolution like the 1920 she so loved. “Youth went out to life instead of waiting for it to come to them.” Diana said of the time. She embraced fashion coming off the streets of London, believing it was the way forward. She brought Vogue from being a “sleepy magazine” to being the introduction of interesting people and new style.
She saw the model not as a mannequin but as a personality and found models that others overlooked. “Push their faults; make it an asset,” she said of the models features. “If they have a gap in their teeth or a long neck, focus on that and make it great.” Diane Von Furstenberg said about Vreeland, “She saw things in people before they saw it for themselves.” “She made it ok for women to be ambitious and outlandish.” Said Angelica Houston of Vreeland. In supporting and celebrating art and pop culture she gathered interesting friends. She was at Studio 54 and in Hollywood. She celebrated the individual.
Diana Vreeland did not hold staff meetings and was not much for collaborative discussion. Instead she sent memos. She sent memos all day long about all kinds of things. Her thoughts on the way things should be and ideas. It was said, “She was the first blogger with her memos.” Her voice was entertaining and style making but it was not collaborative. While she didn’t judge people for their decisions she often did not entertain discussion on topics she did not find enjoyable. Her husband got sick with cancer. She said of this, “it was not something we talked about. No one wants to talk about cancer.” Her coworkers described this as a challenge to help her because she pretended like nothing was wrong. Her children also described this as one of her flaws, “When you never express any negatives you never get to the emotion.” Her sons described her as having “no time for conventional things.” When her husband died she immersed herself in her work.
Diana’s visions were grand and so were the expenses of creating her vision for Vogue. It was said that it seemed she was “sailing very close to the edge” in the way that she provided such extravagance. When the expenses continued but the readership at Vogue reached a plateau it was Diana that paid for it with her job. It was her magazine and when she was fired she commented, “They wanted to make a different magazine.”
Not having time for conventional, no longer working in a position of influence changed her. “She felt very conventional.” She was not happy. The confidence that she had exuded seemed to slip away.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art hired her as a special consultant and again she was given the opportunity to awaken her spirit. She also brought life to the sleepy world of the costume department. She wanted to bring costumes out and to show them to the world. She made large exhibits, she put the costumes on mannequins and set the scene like a story line she created in her head. “Greater than a magazine it was alive.” She painted the walls vivid colors, accompanied the exhibits with music, and pumped fragrance in through the vents. “It was about ideas, and the vision of things.” The opening nights became great social events, celebrity filled, but not necessarily accurate to history. “She represented the history as she remembered…. Fantasy eclipses the reality… She felt the pulse and promoted it.” She was comfortable with this and called her representation not fact or fiction but “Faction.” When facing criticism from the museum community about her lack of education she reminded them she was there for one reason, “to get people in the door.” Her spirit certainly brought patrons to the museum.
“I believe in the dream. I believe we only live through our dreams and imaginations.” Diana dreamed, and lived in this way through decades of history. She participated in history and was educated by the world. Diana Vreeland an inspiration for loving life and living the adventure in your way.
“Upside down original”
“Created beauty and she created wealth.”
“The Empress Vreeland”
“Diana was fashion.”
“The will, the strength, the determination were her invention.”
“She didn’t pretend she was not inventing.”
On who has great style, “I think a race horse let out of the gate has a certain pizzazz.”
On going to work, “I was mad about working, make about taking the train, mad about it all.”
“The best thing out of the war was the bikini.”
“Since the Gondola nothing is as beautiful as the blue jean.”
“Every girl should have Geisha training. You learn by exaggeration.”
“Style is a way of life. It helps you get out of bed & down the stairs. Without it you’re nothing – And I’m not talking about clothes.”
“You’re not supposed to give people what they want. You’re supposed to give them what they don’t know they want yet.”
“I love rouge- totally artificial. We live an artificial life.”
“Water is Gods tranquilizer. To be in it, to see it, to drink it, and to be a surfer—Ahh!”
“Does anyone read a picture book from the beginning? The eye has to travel.”
“I shall die very young. Maybe at 70, 80, or 90 but I shall be very young.”