"There’s only one thing in life and that’s the continual renewal of inspiration." For many, these words would be totally inapplicable to fashion, which can seem to be merely a vapid carousel; a seasonal cyclical process of empty frivolity where all that is new is but mere repetition. However, the life and work of Diana Vreeland, who spoke those words, totally defies this concept. The woman who invented the job of the fashion editor, reconstructed the fashion magazine as we know it and created an attitude to style that has touched writers, designers, photographers and models alike, was a total original, a rehashing of nothing. She asked without irony, "is there anything beyond fashion?" and her life’s work was the representation and celebration of the artform. "Fashion must be the intoxicating release from the banality of the world," she proclaimed, and so she set to work moulding universes of delight in the pages of her magazines and in her own home.
Her three-pronged career – starting at Harper’s Bazaar, moving to Vogue, and then ending as muse-in-residence at the Metropolitan Costume Institute – is celebrated in both a new book out this month, entitled Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, and in a film of the same name, the trailer for which is above. Both are the brainchild of Lisa Immordino, the wife of Vreeland’s grandson, who has spent the past three years researching the full story of this extraordinary woman. The book retells this story through the fashion pages that she created, which run alongside portraits taken by photographers including Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, David Bailey and Cecil Beaton, tales of unflinching friendship with the likes of Jackie Kennedy, and some of her incredible aphorisms. Infamously, for Vreeland, "the bikini is the most important thing since the atom bomb". The documentary expands this further, talking to protogees such as Anjelica Huston and Veruschka as well as those fashion luminaries who worked with her and loved her. The film had its premiere during the Venice Film Festival in September at a party sponsored by the Italian fashion house Tod’s, and is due for international release next year.
For Diana Vreeland, fashion was always enjoyably frivolous but never fatuous, and what mattered above all was style. "You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it you’re nobody." And, as demonstrated by both documentary and book, this controversial visionary constructed a witty amalgamation of beauty, originality, passion and humour which has resonated down the years and is still inspirational to all.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel is out now, published by Abrams and Chronicle.
Text by Tish Wrigley