Living Between Fact & Fiction: Diana Vreeland's Fantastic World
The fashion industry is full of scintillating personalities but none more fabulous and visionary than Diana Vreeland. A new documentary directed by Diana's granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, opens today, tracking the icon's career. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
takes us from the time she spent with Coco Chanel in Paris to her years at Harper’s Bazaar
, the glory of Vogue
in the 60s and 70s, and her tenure at The Costume Institute at the Met. The film is guided by a series of bubbly conversations between Diana and her friend George Plimpton, punctuated by thoughtful and often funny recollections from Diana's family and the fashion industry’s finest, including photographer David Bailey, Anjelica Huston, Diane von Furstenberg, Manolo Blahnik, Bob Colacello, Anna Sui, and Calvin Klein.
Diana is simply “mad about” everything and everyone is mad for her. And while we may be familiar with her personality—we’ve seen the Studio 54 snaps and the Interview
cover, and recognize her eccentric style—the film successfully imparts what it was she loved and lived for in fashion. In a television interview replayed in the film she says, “You can see and feel everything through fashion.” As she says this, her eyes dart from side to side as if on the lookout for a changing tide, a cultural revolution perhaps that she can translate and project through the lens of fashion.
Gillian Tozer: What were the defining moments in Diana's life and career?
Lisa Immordino: I think the first would have been when her mother called her “an ugly little monster” as a child. This was when she decided she had to pick herself up and move forward as a unique and original person. The next was at Harper's Bazaar
in 1936, when she invented the title “Fashion Editor.” At that time, Carmel Snow was the editor-in-chief and Alexey Brodovitch was the art director. It was a fantastic magazine but it needed to have leadership in the fashion department. She had a very difficult relationship with Snow, who was jealous of her and never let her attend the fashion shows in Paris; Diana always went on her own.
In 1962 she was recruited by Vogue
, which at the time was a sleepy society magazine. It was an exciting era and Diana was able to feature all of the cultural, political, and social changes occurring at the time as well as writers, musicians, and actors from around the world. She saw Vogue
as being much more than a fashion magazine and Vogue
would be very different today if it wasn’t for her. She had this sense of openness.
GT: Yes, she really brought a global and multi-cultural perspective. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Veruschka recalls the Richard Avedon editorial shot in Japan, and how they searched high and low for a model who was taller than her—they ended up using a sumo wrestler!
LI: That man was so beautiful
! It was an amazing shoot and Veruschka is so funny. It was so hard to get her for that interview and I’m so glad she did it.
GT: Do you have a favorite issue or image that Diana worked on from her time at the magazines?
LI: There are so many images that I love! From her Vogue
years, it would have to be the December issues—they were real celebrations. I love her early Harper’s Bazaar
work with George Hoyningen-Huene, because that’s when she was really starting to function as a fashion editor. But then you have the Avedons! That’s what was so hard about the book, having to edit out all of those pictures. At one point I asked my publisher if I could have a 500-page book. They of course said no!
Then in 1972 Diana was abruptly fired from Vogue
. There are many different stories about what she did afterwards: some say she checked herself into hospital for three months because she was so wrecked and just couldn’t get out of bed; somebody said she went to Pauline de Rothschild’s house in the south of France immediately after. What’s clear is that she found herself very quickly at The Costume Institute at the Met. She was working in the dress and costume department, which was really just a closet of old clothes at the time. She gave these items life and with them told a story. Sometimes not entirely factually correct stories, but great stories nonetheless. And she put on shows that she loved: one of her first shows was based on La Belle Époque, which is the era she was from. She knew how to make the people feel like they were there and if that meant she needed to use an accessory that wasn’t from that specific period, it didn’t matter. The story mattered the most. She had this gift of telling a great story and I’m not even sure she was aware of it. She really sent a message and, in this way, she was like an oracle.
GT: How would you define what makes her and her work so unrivalled, even to this day?
LI: Passion and imagination were her driving forces. When you think of originality you think of Diana Vreeland. When you think of fantasy you think of Diana Vreeland. When you think of freedom you think of Diana Vreeland. She could mix these things on all levels; she was able to mix low and high cultures and this was a huge asset. She was a society woman and a rebel within that society. She could spend time with [her family] and then she would go have dinner with a princess. She touched a lot of people, which is why so many, all 60 of them, were happy to be a part of the film.
GT: Except for that one assistant!
LI: Oh, yes, but Diana was definitely a toughie! You’re thinking of Ali MacGraw, right?
GT: Yes! But we shouldn’t spoil that scene for those who haven’t seen it! I want to talk a little more about Diana’s ability to blur the lines of fiction and fact—I think in the film Tonne Goodman refers to it as “faction.
LI: I love that word "faction" but I look at it as more of a filter. She put ideas through her mind and they came out shinier. It’s not lying, it’s just making things more interesting. There are lots of stories that we didn’t include in the film. One of my favorites was her story about a man who lived just outside of London and once a week he would drive to London in a Rolls-Royce convertible with his two pet gorillas sitting in the back seat, dressed in fur and bowler hats. She would see them driving around town! She was always the ultimate storyteller.
GT: That's hilarious! One of the big “factions” in the film is her recollection of the Charles Lindbergh plane flying overhead while she was playing with her son. You bring this story back at the end of the film. Why is that?
LI: Yes, that story is a big “faction”! It was very important to me that she left on the plane with Lindbergh, living in her dream and fantasy.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel opens in theaters today.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland