A new documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland paints a vivid picture of the first lady of fashion.
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In 1936, Diana Vreeland’s vibrantly colourful column ‘Why Don’t You…’ leaped off the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and grabbed its readers’ attention and imagination. Her suggestions ranged from the audacious – ‘Why Don’t You… paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys’ nursery so they won’t grow up with a provincial point of view?’ – to the absurd – ‘Why Don’t You… have a room done up in every colour green? This will take months, years, to collect, but it will be delightful—a mélange of plants, green glass, green porcelains, and furniture covered in sad greens, gay greens, clear, faded, and poison greens?’ – but were never boring. During her twenty-six year tenure at Bazaar, Vreeland reinvented her role as fashion editor for the magazine and reached vertiginous heights that would establish her as the authority on style both on and off the page. The future editor-in-chief of Vogue and consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered Lauren Bacall, decorated Cher and Barbra Streisand and launched Twiggy and Penelope Tree in her fantastical fashion spreads and dramatic ‘December Issues’. With every issue and exhibition, Diana Vreeland took her audience on an epic visual journey that continues to educate and inspire twenty-three years after her death.
On the eve of the release of her new documentary, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, i-D online spoke to the icon’s granddaughter-in-law and director of the film, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, about her own journey.
When did you first become aware of Diana Vreeland? Well, I worked in the fashion world and you can’t help but be aware of her in that industry. Of course I knew about her but I wasn’t one of those obsessive fans, I just knew who she was. Even now, I just admire her in a different way. I’ve known my husband (Diana’s grandson, Alexander Vreeland) twenty-five years and I’ve been with him for twenty and she was never really a topic of discussion until now! The past three years my whole life has become Diana Vreeland but she never really was. I also never wanted our house to be full of her stuff. Whatever we do have up is because I really admire it.
How did your relationship to her change as you conducted your research? I found out a lot I didn’t know. I knew about her career but I felt like I got to know her through the research and through looking at her images. The transcripts that were used in the film based on George Plimpton’s interviews with Diana were invaluable. I found out so much through them. She was a very humble person in the end and the conversation she had with Plimpton was much like the conversation we are having now – she was just talking about life and not taking herself too seriously and it was really nice to hear that because I would have never expected that. The Vreeland that I knew was this extroverted fashion personality, or at least I had assumed that from images of her. But she was a real human being who touched a lot of people’s lives.
Did anything surprise you during the making of the film? What was surprising was the real love these people had for her, which was not only indicative of the time they gave but also their seriousness about her and their willingness to contribute. I did sixty interviews and remember, this is years later, and all these people had nothing but nice things to say. Many cited her as a mentor who they kept in touch with and who kept in touch with them. She showed them how to look at things and how to be positive, and that was consistent.
Did anyone have anything negative to say? At a certain point in the film when I was working with my co-directors and editors I said, “this is going to be such a puff piece, you’ve got to put some negatives in there!” But there wasn’t much, it really was hard to find a negative. She didn’t talk openly about her emotions much so we used that as a negative because we had to. But I think it was a very generational thing, not to talk about your emotions.
You very briefly touch upon her death at the end of the film. Was it a conscious decision to keep her memory young, like she desired? I didn’t want her to die and I didn’t think she had to in the film because for me it was all about her fantasy. That part of her that was the most interesting part and I really wanted her to be able to leave in a dream and for us to leave with her and that’s why it’s so essential for her to fly off with Lindbergh.
What are you working on next? I’m going to be doing a documentary on Peggy Guggenheim. I’ve spent the past three years with Diana Vreeland and right now she’s taken over my life. It’s time.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel is in cinemas on September 21st and on DVD on October 29th.
Text: Frankie Mathieson