Thursday, October 20, 2011

Diana Vreeland - Visionary and Icon

I have always adored Diana Vreeland.  For those of you uninitiated in the magical fabulosity that is Diana, she was the fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar (1936-1962), the editor-in-chief of Vogue (1962-1971), and really made the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972-1989) what it is today.  Now Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Diana's granddaughter-in-law, has compiled a new book chronicling her 50 years of fashion, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.

It is more of a picture book, than anything, though the pictures show you the genius of Mrs. Vreeland, and also, as the inside of the book jacket says, "shows fashion as it was being invented, through the pages of magazines that shaped American taste with their superb fashion editing, photography, and art direction."

In the opening pages, Lisa says, "Her career spanned five decades and bore witness to major social upheavals and changes: the crash, WW II, and the sexual revolution.  She made sure these phenomena were reflected heavily in the pages of Bazaar and Vogue - in pieces that were considered shocking at times, but always innovative, vibrant, and unforgettable."

Mrs. Vreeland in her office at Vogue.

I have enjoyed all of the books I have read either by or about Mrs. Vreeland, including two she wrote, Allure and her autobiography, D.V., along with the biography, Diana Vreeland by Eleanor Dwight, which told much more about her life, but this book is so visually stunning, I was quite enraptured reading it and most of all, learning and continuing to train my eye.  Its large-scale size is perfect to present her stunning originality of thought and grasp of the new and exotic. 

What I love most about her though, is she is not afraid.  Not afraid to be different in her looks, in her ideas, in her decorating, and in her words.  As a true original and an icon, she inspires me to be more of my true self and more confident in my vision for myself and my world.

I see Mrs. Vreeland as having a very aesthetic brain, as I feel I do.  When I was given one of those personality tests that are so popular with companies and non-profit boards, I thought I truly knew myself, but at the age of 50, I realized something new.  I must give a shout-out to Mary Beth Bos, who gave me the test, for helping me discover something very life-changing about how I approached things.  After completing the test, Mary Beth asked me which of the several things listed did I think drove my actions.  After looking at them, I selected power and money.  She informed me that those things were definitely NOT what drove me, aesthetics were what made me tick and I realized she was right.  I never really did enjoy money or power just for the sake of money and power, but for the beautiful things they could buy and the interesting projects that were offered to me.  I see Mrs. Vreeland as the same type of person, only she intuitively knew that about herself early on and embraced it enthusiastically.  I am just starting down that path.

There are many jolts of red throughout the book.  Red, red, red is the color of her much photographed apartment.  I have seen the pictures many times and each time I see something new and different in what she referred to as her "Garden in Hell".  Mrs. Vreeland says about red, "Red is the great clarifier - bright, cleansing, and revealing.  It makes all colors beautiful.  I can't imagine becoming bored with red - it would be like becoming bored with the person you love."  Anyone who knows me, knows I also love red.  I think I have about seven or eight red St. John suits, a red Louis Vuitton handbag that I carry often, and most of the time, bright red finger nails and lips.  Red is divine.

Mrs. Vreeland's "Garden in Hell" living room designed by Billy Baldwin

Even though I loved, loved, the magazine years of the book, what truly mezmerized me was the section regarding her years at The Met.  Prior to Mrs. Vreeland's arrival, exhibitions were styled for historical accuracy.  That all changed when Diana walked through the hallowed halls.  She added drama.  Props were brought in, music was piped in, and perfume was sprayed through the galleries.  An experience was created.

Mrs. Vreeland at her Man and the Horse exhibition

I strongly urge anyone interested in educating their eye and expanding their taste level to buy this book, study it assiduously, and revel in all things Vreeland.

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