diana vreeland: the eye has to travel

One of my favourite quotes is by Diana Vreeland, she once said, “Elegance is innate.  It has no-thing to do with being well dressed.  Elegance is refusal.”  It turns out she said a lot of other things beside that.  A truly remarkable woman, this film should be required watching for any woman interested in fashion, or any woman older than 40, or basically any women at all.Born into a well to do family, (though she herself didn’t think they were well off) at the turn of the century – her sheer longevity was a remarkable factor in her experience. She lived through the Belle Epoch in Paris.  She once said the best thing about London was Paris – and she adored everything French.  She lived through the Roaring Twenties, which were her time of rebellion, and on through to the 60’s which she loved.  She started at Harpers Bazaar in 1937 (at the age of 34) after the Editor Carmel Snow noticed her clothes (she was wearing Chanel – who was a personal friend).  She started by writing a column called Why Don’t You, which she continued until she left in 1962, even once she became Editor herself.  From there the film charts her progress on to Vogue, and then The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The film is full of clips of her, and her wonderful quotes – “I loathe Narcissism, but I approve of vanity”, and her monumental photographic work with the magazines.  With many wonderful faces, designers, models and photographers who worked with her over the years – it is a wonderful look at her legendary life.  Aside from her mold-breaking work with magazines, it is the huge legacy she has left with The Metropolitan Museum of Art that has far more effect on us than I was ever aware.  Recently I had the great pleasure of seeing the John Paul Gaultier exhibition at the De Young in San Francisco.  The exhibition, titled The Fashion World of John Paul Gaultier ‘From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ (it finishes 19 August) owes it very fabulous existence to Vreeland and her stubborn inability to do things the way they ‘should be done.’ Up until she took control of the Met, costumes, and fashion where simply stored as an archive and these beautiful pieces hardly ever saw they light of day.  She bought them out of the dusty archives – and showed them to the world. She was also the first person to curate exhibitions (within the Museum context) of living designers – this also had never been done before.  She understood our deep connection to fashion, costumes and art – and I just can’t tell you how amazing it was for me personally to stand so close (at the Gaultier exhibition) to the beautiful couture pieces and really get to see Gaultier’s incredibly brilliance in close detail.  We owe that exhibition to her. She changed the way we did so many things.  She also had a profound effect on women in the workforce.  At 34 she realized that she needed to work, and so left her two young sons to earn a living.  This at a time when women in the workforce were not a common thing. She worked everyday of her life almost right up until her death in 1989. It is as much a look at the social change for women as it is a look at her individual life. She had a formidable work ethic.  She also nurtured and encouraged many a famous face and great talent, but I don’t wish to ruin the surprises of exactly who – as they are an important part of the film.

This is most certainly not a rosy homage to her – she was very good at poking fun at herself, and the film leaves us thinking about exactly how much of her life was true (according to her at least).  It is unendingly positive, and I dare you to not leave the theatre with a wide smile on your face.  It has been said that it is cross between The September Issue and Bill Cunningham New York; I would just say it is homage to a truly remarkable woman who lived a full and vibrant life.  Go see it, and learn just a little from her ability to bend the world to see things the way she wished they could be seen.

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