• Just got lashes @paperself - ed at @openingceremony #openingceremonytokyo 1st year anniversary party
  • Mega cute stuff from new brand @littlesunnybiteyoppy
  • Cute clutch from @peachesandcream_xxx new recommendation thanks to @reishito !!!
  • Sasquatchfabrix S4 pyjama look
  • Pleats Please roses

I've just finished reading Amanda Mackenzie Stuart's biography of Diana Vreeland (upon Justine Picardie's recommendation), a far more complete and astute rendering of Vreeland's career, attitude and life, than Vreeland's own self-voiced D.V. or Allure.  There's so much forward-before-her-time thinking that can be deduced from Vreeland's career, all of which feels so pertinent now when we're faced with a seemingly barren or static moment in fashion.  One such innovation was getting the "eye to travel", commissioning the most fantastical and far-flung shoots during her tenure as editor-in-chief at Vogue between 1963 and 1971, where money was no object and jet travel was beginning to open up to the public.  These were shoots from Vreeland's dreams though, where she saw no need for reflecting hardlined cultural accuracy but instead fantasised about the most positive, wondrous and adventurous elements of her locations from Ayers Rock in Australia to Hokkaido in Japan, and married them up with fashion to present something conjured up in her head.  

Boring geographical borders and dull historical facts were not the point when it came to the wilder shores of the East.  What Diana wanted on the pages of Vogue was the Orient of her inner eye, an Orientalist fantasy.  

Coincidentally, I've just received the A/W 13-4 lookbook from pyjama darling Olivia von Halle, presenting a highly stylised and lavish Shanghai setting (it was shot in the iconic Peace Hotel) that would perhaps have pleased Vreeland.  What we take for granted now as de rigeur in editorial and lookbook shoots now seem like a pastiche and warrants querying and questioning.  Remember when I investigated the idea of high fashion Chinoiserie after the Rodarte and Louis Vuitton collections of S/S 11?  My stance since then has mellowed somewhat into a relaxed acceptance that every culture, ethnicity and locale has been appropriated and re-interpreted so that the eye now travels constantly.  Every cliche has been explored.  

And sometimes that visual language is rich enough to support the idea of hauling out those cultural cliches in fashion in the context of a harmless image, one that we, the reader is unlikely to take literally.  And so we have a pair of China Dolls hamming it up by lounging on lacquer furniture, mixing silk PJ's and robes with Prada and Marni, crystals with jade, Aperlai shoes with Guizhou embroidery and fans with furs.  The styling is conceived by none other than my other doppelganger Leaf Greener, fashion editor of Elle (I don't mind getting mixed up with this style maven though who I invariably get outfit envy over), whose own Chinese background somewhat gives sanction to this sumptuous mix.  Try as you might to bring in misdemeanous of colonialism, Orientalism and cultural stereptyping but what remains is an image that endurses, inspires and ultimately can intelligently be taken with a pinch of salt.  Huffy over analysis when it comes to political correctness in fashion is something of a fruitless task.  That same probing analysis also gave way to Vreeland's own supposedly out-of-step downfall when the 1970s feminist dialogue permeated and critiqued her view on fashion, when she was actually ahead of her time and advocating a "Do whatever" attitude in fashion in the late 1960s, which dictates the landscape again today as the onset of the internet has partially facilitated that freedom.  On Vreeland's departure from Vogue, Mackenzie Stuart addresses the mistiming of her ideal. 

As feminism took hold, Vogue's readers began to think differently about identity, Diana's attachment to her romantic ideal of female power made her inflexible.  A view of fashion as a means of self-expression, as ludic, creative and empowering, would, of course, eventually resurface strongly alongside other late twentieth-century ideas about female identity, but that time was some way off.  For the time being Diana and the Girl were in Vogue's way; and a short time later they were both gone.  

P.S. I happen to be bunged-up and flu-ridden today and the idea of lounging around in silk crepe de chine PJ's in jewel tones is an infinitely more appealing alternative to sneezing in my grotty t-shirts and Steve's flannel bottoms.  

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Comments (16)

  1. Sóley says:

    Hi China dolls, I love you.

  2. Jana H. says:

    Oh! Diana Vreeland is THE woman who also worked with Veruschka in those years… Veruschka, another incredible artist model and woman of course. Thanks for the post, I’ll take a look at the book.
    I think it’s always helpful and more important than people think to know where ideas and concepts in the actual fashion business come from. Sometimes I see blogs written by very young girls, or boys! They seem to think the business was created just jesterday. It’s always an inspiration to read biographies, I love them to.
    Once I actually posted about the book Veruschka publisched a few years ago, she also was (and still is) ahead of her time.
    thanks
    Jana

  3. Frances says:

    I recently read the Vreeland biography too and have to agree it feels like a much more complete portrait of her than the existing books (and film). I think the book works well partly because Mackenzie Stuart is so sympathetic to Vreeland’s flights of fantasy and the beauty they created, rather than punishing her – as she easily could – for lack of factual or political correctness.
    And, my, those pjs! Spending the weekend in those is my idea of a fantasy weekend…

  4. Leslie H. says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily compare the Orientalist nature of these image to the S/S ’11 LV or Rodarte collections. Whether something is Orientalist (i.e. evocative of objectifying, feminizing, sexualized stereotypes of the “East”), I think depends on who is the author of such images, and what kind of bodies occupy the space. I agree that the photos are still evocative of a particular “Orientalist” fantasy, and what I think keeps it from tipping into the territory of cultural appropriation is that the bodies in the setting are Chinese (or at least Asian), rather than white, and that these images are intended to evoke a particular setting (1930s Shanghai). Contrast these images with the recent slew of “geisha” themed fashion editorials (with pieces from the SS ’13 Prada collection, bien sur) most (if not all) of which, if I can recall, used white models done up in an “exotic” yet “modern” style. Consider also the Dior “Shanghai Dreamers” series where it is a white model garbed in haute couture that stands out as the idealized form from a crowd of identical Chinese faces.
    I do think that fantasy (and even Orientalist fantasies) can be approached in an intelligent manner, preferably in a way that challenges and deconstructs the objectified gaze. To a certain degree, Vreeland’s insouciance can be forgiven as a product of her time, but to see the same fantasies repeated over and over in the present, without any remarkable change really does speak to a stasis and an marked lack of intelligence in fashion. I am not lax about political correctness, because I think that people should know better. But they don’t.

  5. I so wish I could pull off this look. Added to my bed/sleep tumblr (am narcoleptic, hence the pre-occupation with sleep) http://artofsleep.tumblr.com/

  6. SACRAMENTO says:

    Your posts are so rich and informative that I have nothing to add, jut to be grateful to have you in my life.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  7. Alyssa says:

    I will certainly have to read this biography myself, I love finding out about new books to read. I have a massive pile of books that I want to get through but I often just stick to the same genres so it’s good to see recommendations to encourage me to branch out a bit.
    Loving these beautiful pjs, It’s a shame you can’t wear them out though right, they are much to wonderful for bed.
    Alyssa
    http://squibtoday.blogspot.com.au

  8. These are absolutely gorgeous. Piped PJs are my dream, and showing them in such a luxurious light makes me want to rush out and by some now. A few times a year I try to convince myself to start wearing nice PJs rather than an old tee and boxers – maybe this time I actually will!

  9. milex says:

    I really thought you gonna invite me to your bed.
    http://milexblog.blospot.co.uk

  10. Sarah says:

    Very informative post! I learned a lot as to how should I dress before going to sleep.

  11. susie_bubble says:

    Interesting point but I would say, where do we draw the lines? By your definition white models inhabitating that “exotic” style or standing out as a point of difference in amongst the “Asian mass” is a cause for concern but I could also look at these images and say they’re being art directed by an English pyjama designer, projecting colonial visions of a bygone Chinese glamorous period. I just think that looking hard enough and indepth enough at ANY image that involves cultural appropriation could be problematic.
    I’m not saying I’m laxed on political correctness but in fashion, more often than not, they’re images that have had precedents set and when beyond fashion, there are so many cliches adrift EVERYWHERE, I’m not sure fashion should be the primary target of ire. Your point about static and lazy image values is definitely pertinent and I’d definitely question why that is.
    As for chinoiserie for chinoiserie sake’s – I think what I’m saying is there’s no denying the aesthetic value – and I personally still see that value in those LV/Rodarte S/S 11 collections – and I relate it to Vreeland’s stance, that she made the eye travel the way she wanted it to travel, ignoring geographic reality – because at the end of the day, fashion as a creative fantasy and expression should be the number one agenda, particularly at a point when things are stale. Repetitive cliches aren’t helpful but it’s figuring out how to move things forward, whilst keeping the fantasy alive.

  12. Couteau says:

    There is no objective geographic reality, unless you are a scholar applying for a grant.
    We play on our own clich√©s from the past. The Chinese are just as guilty of chinoiserie. Actually, Chinese designers (not just in fashion) must be doing a lot of archeological clich√© work after all that destruction of cultural value that took place in recent history. And there you have an interesting subject for a post or chain of posts. Aren’t they rediscovering themselves?
    It might be a Chinese designer keeping the fantasy alive or indeed Kar Lagerfeld. If anything a (geographic) outsider can be more objective.
    One fantasy that’s alive and kicking is Russia (pronounced as Vreeland would, Rrrrussia). That has a lot to do with rediscovery, and for inspiration they will -no doubt- look for Russia in Paris and such places, and their old aristocracy, themselves German.
    Repetition is another issue. But the benefit of being in a commercial industry as opposed to academia is a freedom from prejudice and system thinking.
    Even on academic grounds, I would challenge the notion of appropriation. Chinese silk, furniture and porcelain has been part of western history for thousands of years. These clich√©s are “ours” as much as “theirs”. Furthermore, their own aesthetic was shaped by foreign demand (from Romans to Venetians and even my Portuguese fathers), and foreign invaders, like Genghis Khan, who I’m sure, demanded “the real thing”, the clich√©s.
    Voilà.

  13. Love Diana Vreeland , wrote a blog post about her. Check out my website http://www.FripperyVintage.com

  14. Roberta says:

    looks like some CHina dolls, love it , big like from me!

  15. Anita says:

    I love the textures as well as the prints. The patterns themselves are absolutly devine!!! So rich and informative…I love your posts.

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