(BERLIN) This week Diana Vreeland is back in vogue with the launch of a book and documentary, The Eye Has To Travel about her divine life in fashion. The Daily asked author and filmmaker, Lisa Immordino Vreeland about her mission to keep her grandmother-in-law’s memory alive. BY EDDIE ROCHE
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I kept noticing that the two great books that already existed out there were ones she did herself, D.V., her autobiography, and Allure. I felt that she needed to be redefined for a new generation. It was such a treat to be able to go through 26 years of Bazaar and nine years of Vogue, and all of the shows at the Costume Institute. I couldn’t quite understand why no one had done it and thought she needed to be understood by the next generation. I worked in fashion for part of my career and I didn’t quite get her myself. I didn’t get what her contributions were. The only Vreeland that I knew was the Mrs. Vreeland that you saw in photographs, and everything was exaggerated with a lot of makeup. I discovered her through the process of the book and the movie.
You’re married to her grandson. Did you ever get to meet her?
I never did. We have a little bit of a clandestine relationship.
What’s it like living with the last name of a public figure that you’ve never met?
I still cherish my own name, Immordino. When I worked in fashion I made sure I was never called Mrs. Vreeland because there is only one Mrs. Vreeland. For most of my marriage, people just knew she was somebody in fashion, but that’s changed in recent years.
What is your background in fashion?
I have done everything from PR to marketing to design, and owning my own company. I started at Ralph Lauren and was an assistant to the vice president, and then opened their PR department in Italy. Then I just worked on freelance projects for many years.
Where did you start the book?
We were living in Paris at the time and I went to the Vogue offices and sat in someone’s office there and went through her nine years of Vogue in the 60’s when Vogue just totally came alive. I took my time going through all of those archives and then I started going through everything else. There was something lucky that happened, I found these tapes that were made between George Plimpton and Diana when he was editing her autobiography. I found them coupled with these transcripts and I was getting to know her through listening to her voice over and over again. I was totally immersed in her world. It was quite nice to be working on a book and a film. They complimented each other. There is a cross over between the images of the book and the film and there is, of course a lot of cross over in the text with her one-liners.
How do you describe Diana Vreeland to a generation that doesn’t know who she is?
Commonly she had been known as the Empress of Fashion. She was about inspiration, she was the fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar for 26 years, from 1936-1962 and from 1963-1971 she was the editor of Vogue. She took a magazine that had the name of Vogue but didn’t really stand for Vogue in a sense. It had been more of a society magazine, and she took this magazine and what was going on in the sixties where life was changing. She was already in her own 60s at that point. She understood what was going on and how to react to those changes. She understood that the sixties signified the jet plane, the pill, the Beatles, Mick Jagger, and shorter skirts. She also understood that it was international and about the world. She had this wonderful vision that one world was everyone’s world. She gave life to a magazine that didn’t really have any life and she gave it a soul.
How do you think she changed fashion?
She invented the fashion editor! At that time the whole concept of fashion editing didn’t exist. [Richard] Avedon says it the best: We just had society ladies that were filling in these spots. But she was very much a traditional society lady in a sense, but she went in there and it became her life. So the term “fashion editor” really only started with her. If you look at what she did with the “Why Don’t You” section and if you think of these messages that she was giving you, she wasn’t just talking about clothes. She was talking about life.
How would you describe her sense of humor?
She was hilarious. When you see the film you will be able to understand it because she is never still on camera. She always has a sense of rhythm, which is something that she talked about quite often. She always said that when she really learned to live was when she learned to dance. Dancing was a really important part of her life. But when you see her talk she has a rhythm. Her eyes are rolling, and her mouth is making all these funny expressions. But she was deadpan funny. Things just kind of rolled off her shoulders. She had some real issues that happened in her life. Her mother called her ‘ugly little monster’ at a very young age, and from that moment on she felt she had to transform herself. She certainly had something special inside of her.
Didn’t she discover Oscar de la Renta?
I am not sure she made him; she played a very pivotal role in a lot of people’s lives including Manolo Blahnik, Diane von Furstenberg, and Carolina Herrera. I think that Manolo is a very good example, and he talks about this publicly. He had come to the United States and he was doing sets at the time and showed Mrs. Vreeland his drawings and she said, ‘My boy you must do extremities!’ And that is exactly what he started to do, he just started designing shoes. People said that she was a horror to work for because she felt that she worked so hard so that everyone else around her should work as hard. She had no sense of what holidays were.Her assistants would cry at night and then come back the next day wanting more the next morning because she gave people so much inspiration.
Was she a party girl?
She was a party girl in different ways. It’s funny because I was talking to someone today and they said they used to always see her at Studio 54. She went a couple of times but I don’t think she went that much. Her husband died in 1965 and she didn’t die until 1989 so there were a lot of years that she was by herself. She was never with another man. She was very traditional with some things but very wild with her vision. She liked her drinks. She used to drink whisky, and she loved vodka. She was just very social.
Would she be a good EIC today?
Totally! She would be good at anything she did. I don’t know about the business side, but people are smart enough to know you have business people there to support that talent. She was so beyond her time. People who were half her age were not half as cool as she was.
Plus! Mrs. Vreeland’s Pearls
“Why don’t you as Schiaparelli go to the theatre in a black tweed evening suit with a jacket embroidered in brilliant paillettes? And then slip off the jacket, to show a necklace of old round uncut pink rubies, matching your ring?”
“Someone once said, “Genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains.” Therefore, when dressing be absorbed completely and utterly in yourself, letting no detail escape you. However, once dressed be interested only in those about you. “
“Why don’t you rinse your blonde child’s hair in dead champagne to keep its gold, as they do in France? Or pat her face gently with cream before she goes to bed, as they do in England?”
“Why don’t you get a finger-length leopard-skin cape to wear this autumn over your country tweeds and your newest and most chic evening dresses—wonderful over yellow, pink, beige, or black?”
“I always wear my sweater back-to-front; it is so much more flattering.”
“Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola.”
“Unshined shoes are the end of civilization.”
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