Enfin! The Diana Vreeland documentary has touched down in fly-over country opening January 25th at Plaza Frontenac on its “bazaar” path of theatrical release.
There is a delightfully mortifying scene in the 2010 documentary Ultrasuede: In Search Of Halston wherein the director Whitney Smith is filming an interview with himself and American Vogue’s (literally) editor-at-large, André Leon Talley.
During their conversation, the director interrupts Mr. Talley to ask who Diana Vreeland is, completely unaware of the magnitude of his faux-pas. The resulting hissy fit thrown by Mr. Talley is completely justified; sadly the mortification was his to bear. Mr. Smith gets back into his Trans Am to learn more about Halston (I told you it was moronic).
While Le Movie Snob lands on the side of the fence that would recommend the movie, I believe that it lacks the elegance and quality that was Ms Vreeland’s own gospel. Donc, my recommending the film is as an introduction to learn about this remarkable woman.
I’m not a student of science, but I know who Jonas Salk was. I don’t like country music, and I know about the Grand Ole’ Opry. I hate American football, and yet I know it was O.J. Simpson’s first career.
Lest the millenial generation think “Bravo-lebrity” stylist Rachel Zoe was the first to speak hyperbolically about fashion (minus the wit), it is important that Diana Vreeland’s legacy be carried into the twenty-first century.
My disappointment with the movie is that it appears amateurish. The movie begins with an absolutely insufferable imagined dialogue by two thee-ah-tah actors impersonating Ms Vreeland, and George Plimpton, the author who helped her write her autobiography. It’s a lax effort to make up for the lack of film clips of her early life.
Mercifully, the voice-overs wane as the the collection of clips of her many television appearances takes over. The writing is atrocious, not even at the level of soap opera exposition. This, and a short cartoon that appears later in the film, are two elements that have no business in a documentary film.
However, I do have high praise for a brilliant, beautiful animated montage of Vreeland’s pictorials for Harper’s Bazaar that make up the voyage I believe Vreeland intended for our eyes.
I appreciated the interviews with her family members; in fact, the director is her granddaughter-in-law whom she never met. Perhaps this proximity is responsible for the lack of chronology, objectivity, and for forgetting that the woman who coined the word “faction” (to mean fact + fiction) might only be telling the truth when she said she wasn’t.
One example (of likely many): a clip of Vreeland taking full credit for establishing the House of Chanel in the United States, inferring responsibility for its success, and claiming Gabrielle Chanel as a close friend.
Knowing a lot about Chanel and people who work at the House, this didn’t seem right, so I did some research.
The truth is that the two women were acquaintances at best, and Harper’s Bazaar first featured Chanel’s clothes in 1917 – when Vreeland was fourteen years old, twenty years before she began working there.
I’ve heard nothing but raves about this movie, but I suspect the raves are really for Ms Vreeland, the person as opposed to the fashion editor, rather than for the film itself.
Despite the glut of fashion documentaries and television shows, the role of a a fashion editor is amorphous. HBO recently aired an interesting documentary In Vogue in which creative directors and fashion editors for the various international editions of Vogue were interviewed.
At the beginning, each interviewee is asked to describe their job, and none, not a single one can. They are struck dumb for several moments before they begin grasping at bullshit answers to save face. I mention this movie to support the aforementioned point that for a fashion editor it is the person, not the job, who dominates.
Sadly, Vreeland was an ugly duckling who knew she would never know life as a swan. I believe this deficit was the driving force throughout her life. It permeated her thirst for finding beauty wherever it existed and her determination to illuminate it to the world. It didn’t keep her from having a loving, handsome husband and happy family. Just as a blind person develops an above average sense of hearing, so did Vreeland’s homeliness sharpen her wit and eye for beauty.
“Elegance is innate. It has nothing to do with being well dressed. Elegance is refusal.”
“Pink is the navy blue of India.”
“The best thing about London is Paris.”
and Le Movie Snob’s personal favorite:
“There is only one very good life and that is the life you know you want and you make it yourself.”
What makes a fashion editor famous? Sadly, I think more people have heard the name Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue since 1988).
“She was and remains the only genius fashion editor,” the photographer Richard Avedon said upon Vreeland’s death in 1989. Was Avedon insulting Wintour?
While I am a Movie Snob, I am not a fashion expert, not even a fashionista, merely interested by the art and an aspiring consumer.
I developed a hunch as to what the difference is between these two women, and my research (interviews and watching the 2007 documentary The September Issue) has confirmed my thesis: Diana Vreeland had a generous open spirit and wanted to share her love of fashion while Anna Wintour wants to be fashion’s gatekeeper, kingmaker, and limit its access to the hoi polloi.
Diana Vreeland was the first fashion editor to use non-Caucasian models. She featured the stunning model China Machado who told me “I adored Diana, she was my champion.”
Anna Wintour has replaced models with celebrities and doesn’t see beauty in what in unique and imperfect. In The September Issue, her criticism about the blonde, blue-eyed actress/cover girl Sienna Miller is withering.
That Vogue cover shoot was done in Rome, a beautiful city, certainly, but not unfamiliar to Vogue readers.
Diana Vreeland wanted to take her reader to exotic lands they were never likely to visit and composed pictorials of models with “real people.”
Vreeland loved fashion and those who created it. She loved sharing her discoveries with her readers. The September Issue has a scene in which Wintour is instructing (in my opinion interfering) Oscar de la Renta, no neophyte, on how he should present and alter his collection at his studio, not at her magazine’s offices. And he sat there and took it, evidence of the power she wields.
Vreeland created the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art not just so she could stay busy and relevant, but so that this art that she loved could be shared with as many people as possible. In the movie, she speaks of the joy she feels that a little girl from Harlem is able to experience an haute couture gown up close and in person.
Despite last year’s wildly successful exhibit of the work of Yves Saint Laurent, the Costume Institute is currently mostly known for its opening night gala, heavily covered by publicity fluff shows like Entertainment Tonight and its ilk thanks to Anna Wintour’s monarchical control of the guest list, predictably celebrity heavy.
The focus is on the fashion worn by the A-listers deemed worthy, not on the fashion being exhibited inside. I would like to think Ms Vreeland would slap Ms Wintour until their cheeks matched for Wintour’s personal plunder of Vreeland’s legacy.
Vicky Tiel, the only American to have had her own fashion design house in Paris, met Ms Vreeland and validated my suspicion.
“The difference with DV and Anna Wintour is her generous nature ….arms wide open to the world, not closed to her insider friends who SHE discovers and SHE promotes. Real power is generosity….
“[Wintour] treats power with fear …a closed circle of designers she has to MAKE HAPPEN …to affirm that she is the top of the chain… sadly the closthes Vogue promotes today are neither wearable or beautiful art. They are often negative and weird, something never done by DV. It was saleable.”
While the movie doesn’t cover Vreeland’s time as an habituée of Studio 54 and palling around with Andy Warhol, current Editor-At-Large of Harper’s Bazaar Derek Blasberg evoked this less known side of Vreeland when I asked him what the world should remember about her:
“Diana Vreeland will not be forgotten because what she said then is just as amusing, truthful and inspired as someone saying it now. ‘We all need a splash of bad taste– it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against!'”
There is so much more to learn about Diana Vreeland’s life and accomplishments. May this movie (and my review) be the beginning of the voyage that will inspire you.
Merci beaucoup to those who generously took time to answer my questions and my apologies that I couldn’t include all of your contributions: China Machado, Vicky Tiel, Cliff Cheng, Geoffrey Payton (luxury brand consultant), & Derek Blasberg.