Prior to watching the documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, directed by her granddaugher-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, I had re-read Diana Vreeland's autobiography DV and re-flicked through the coffee table book of the same title (also compiled by Lisa Immordino) as well as Vreeland's authored picture-based volume on the quality of Allure.  The documentary visually brings to life the three of those books combined but it's only reading all three in addition to the film that you get the full picture.  

The DVD for Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is coming out in the UK tomorrow, having had a short cinema run and will no doubt making it into a lot of stockings come Christmas but as I already had the three books at my disposal, it made watching the film a little like going over a summary of events in a quickened pace.  I'm going to be one of those annoying pedantic folk who says "The book is better".  That said, for people such as my boyfriend who knew nothing about Diana Vreeland, the film was an enthralling peek into a world of a woman who had vision by the bucketload.  It's loosely chronological and takes us from the beginning of Vreeland's enchanted life as a girl who had people like Diaghilev and other luminaries waltzing in to her life.  As a young society wife, she was dressed by Coco Chanel and flitted between London, New York and Paris soaking up the twenties with gusto.  

Her calling came when Carmel Snow, then editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar noticed Vreeland for her style and made her a contributor in 1937 with the noted "Why Don't You‚Ķ?" column.  Vreeland of course then became fashion editor and after a tenure of over twenty years, she then jumped ship to Conde Nast and was editor-in-chief there from 1963 until 1971.  Her final years as consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art until her death rounded off a career where she had orchestrated the transformation of fashion publications into things that made people like you and me dream and visible gasp.  She created the role of style visionnaire, muse and talent nurturer  (David Bailey, Richard Avedon, Penelope Tree and Lauren Bacall are just a few of the names that she bought to the forefront).

That's the short summary of the documentary with plenty of supporting talking heads from the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Angelica Huston and Vreeland's two sons Tim and Frederick.  The film also brings to life some of the cinematic influences that Vreeland had inspired, in characters like Maggie Prescott (played by Kay Thompson) in 1957's Funny Face or the hilariously ridiculous Miss Maxwell (played by Grayson Hall) in William Klein's Qui √™tes vous, Polly Maggoo?  

As good a job as the film did in summarising Vreeland's life, I still think that the best way of immersing oneself in all things DV is through her championed medium of print – through the many images of the magazines and shoots she styled, through the long essays in The Eye Has to Travel (the book), through the collation of imagery that inspired her in Allure and also through her own exaggerated way of speech in her autobiography.  You'll never get the full picture of what Vreeland achieved and experienced in her illustrious life but you'll get pretty damn close.

There are images in Bazaar during the Vreeland years that are still supremely startling.  The covers for a start didn't necessarily have a smiling white-teethed face staring back at you.  It could be a woman's back, a striped dress or the wink of an eye.  Vreeland's radical ideas coupled with Snow's shrewd editing and Alexey Brodovitch's art direction formed a powerful trio.  In particular, Brodovitch's effective use of white space make the busy editorials of today look crowded and over thought.  The imagery from Vreeland's era of Bazaar editing, don't make you feel like you're looking at clothes that are well over fifty years old.  You're not just retrogazing at golden eras of haute couture but also looking at portrayed attitudes that feel just as relevant today.  She even manages to take the stiffened sheen off a family as perfect as the Kennedy's in an iconic shoot for Bazaar when they were newly installed in the White House.    

Then when she moved over to Vogue as editor-in-chief working with Alexander Liberman, she had the explosive decade of the sixties on her side.  She was quick off the bat in observing that "Society is d√©mod√©.  Today, only personality counts" early in her career at Vogue and so she went out of her way to eke beauty and dynamism out of what seemed like unlikely sources – from the models of the flower generation like Twiggy and Penelope Tree, from exotic locations that have come to inform the Vogues of present day, from talent like The Rolling Stones and Rudolph Nureyev and even from the world of nature such as flowers photographed by Irving Penn or white horses galloping through the snow that would never get page spaces in today's advertising-bound publications.  That was most likely her ultimate downfall.  The conclusion in the documentary is brushed over but the truth was that Vreeland's Vogues were costly and that Conde Nast wanted a very different magazine by 1971, aimed at the "real" working woman.  This obsessive search for the "real" hasn't ceased.  Aren't we jumping from one "real" bandwagon to another still?  The Bridget Jones types of the early noughties.  The bigger woman in a Dove ad campaign.  The woman photographed naturally on the street.  The older women featured in ad campaigns.  The Girls characters penned by Lena Dunham.  

It's hard to decide whether we have truly advanced in fashion publishing from Vreeland's time because of this acknowledgement of the "real".  Judith Thurman's essay in The Eye Has to Travel nails the dichotomy in Vreeland's work between escapist and fantastical vision and then the lack of regard for what's actually going on in society made for often garish viewing.  It's very easy to romanticise Vreeland's work into an oblivion of rose-tinted nostalgia because the images are so extraordinary and inconceivable to the modern eye.  We may miss the presence of this ultra directional imagery that paved the way for editorial to come but it's good to have the foresight to see that fashion publishing and particularly Vogue today straddles between observing what's "real", "preserving the fantasy of fashion as well as maintaining its position as primary tastemaker and pleasing the ad dollar buck that keeps people employed.  It's an equation that perhaps Vreeland never fully understood but we're grateful that she didn't.  

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Comments (26)

  1. mariposa says:

    Super post!!!
    I love the fashion history & the Icons like vreeland
    xoxo from germany
    mariposa-world.blogspot.com

  2. Elisa Eymery says:

    I think it is not unfair to say that Vreeland’s covers and editorials (well not hers, but the ones she probably championed) are much more interesting than the ones we see now. I want to see subjective perspectives and points of view back into the ‘mainstream’ magazines. It’s all becoming very boring and very polite, or if it isn’t, just plain provocative for the sake of being provocative.
    Elisa – Wandering Minds
    http://ourwanderingminds.com

  3. vanessa says:

    I definitely want this in my stocking, I too am someone who normally says ‘ the book is better’ ….we shall see :)
    xxx
    vanessa
    http://www.vanessalucy.blogspot.co.uk
    ps.come check out my beauty giveaway :)

  4. Liz says:

    love old magazines…so amazing
    check out my giveaway!
    http://lavieenliz.com

  5. Thais says:

    Great post.
    I never thought of Diana Vreeland before as you mentioned it, and I think what made her work extraordinary was her complete immersion into Fashion, she surrounded herself in beauty with complete disregard from the real issues, it was a form of escapism from her and I wish that the film touched more on her vulnerable side. Her work makes great reference for us now, but now I think it wouldnt work in our times where soceity is constantly changing and problems are being exposed.
    Loved the film though, it was a visual feast! Next up, the biography!
    Thanks for this post!
    xxx
    nosmilenostyle.blogspot.com

  6. Couteau says:

    Who wants real?
    Real fashion is only ever as real as an average. It represents nothing human.
    I wouldn’t associate fantasy with Vreeland, but eccentricity. Talent and privilege also come to mind, as things she celebrated.
    In fact, I dread the word fantasy. It just shows a lack of sensitivity to the sort of characters that caught her eye. What they mean is odd, never beautiful. It comes loaded with prejudice.

  7. melissa says:

    I love Diana Vreeland but above all i love you
    with amore from italy
    http://www.memasquerate.com/

  8. Luana says:

    Really beautiful !!
    I loved the pictures <3
    I'm posting accessories from Los Angeles on my blog!
    Take a look!
    http://www.thegavlaks.com
    <3

  9. Beautiful inspirations! I love your amazing blog! xx D.G. http://www.thetrendspotter.net

  10. Lynkez says:

    I love those purple dresses.
    I am moved by your posts and tat s why I can’t help but sign in to have a read on the newest blogs from you.
    That’s beautifl work!

  11. My… Those are pretty outfits! I love fashion!

  12. Sari Purdy says:

    Oh Susie, your site is a breath taking one. I love the outfits.

  13. Noe Farrell says:

    Amazing. For sure the eye can’t miss to make an angle for such beautiful magazine and fantastic write up. Thanks a lot…

  14. Those outfits are really pretty. I love every bit of it. Cheers!!!

  15. So pretty for really. I love your effort of making everything appear so beautiful and inspiring Susie. Thank you…You are indeed a hero there, keep up!

  16. Tara says:

    What I find most striking about the Vreeland authorised – or commissioned, as I should probably phrase it – work is how they define an era, yet they do not look or feel the slightest bit dated. They tread the line between luxurious and unattainable, and wholly real and raw – which is, in itself, a remarkable feat. And I must agree – a lot of modern magazine covers and editorials simply cannot compete with the wonderful works of Diana Vreeland and Co.
    Best Wishes,
    Tara

  17. I can watch this documentary over and over again. Very inspiring, loved her ideas on fashion and style.
    http://www.littleredbook-thatshaute.blogspot.com

  18. Juliane says:

    Love the push/pull of the real and unreal: what a great topic for a fashion documentary. Also loving how graphic those photos are! Great forms of color, always key. Always looking for new inspiration.

  19. savannah says:

    Love the subject, all the images and the write up.
    Lord Ashbury.

  20. Love pretty outfits, love the photos, love the article! Thanks for yet another great post…

  21. sarah says:

    Hi we really love your fashion blog and would like to invite you to the ethical fashion night out of the year, including an open wine bar, presenters from Sky and the BBC and Estethica’s favourite fashion designer auction. Check out live music from digital farm animals and our fashion meets art installation at our beautiful marylebone venue. Email us at info@houseofbeth.com for a press pass and check out our website http://www.houseobeth.com

  22. Amanda says:

    I did not know her before. But now I adore her. Beautiful video!

  23. Punit says:

    Very Beautiful video, I appreciate you for sharing it~!

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