In many ways I feel that fashion in the 20th century can be split into two portions: until the 1960s fashion was received from up above, the glamourous world of Haute Couture, when a lady needed to be grown up and over thirty to be elegant and then, from the ’60s when most style influence comes not from top designers but from streetwear: what young and creative people are wearing, what boundaries they’re pushing.
In turn that can inspire a great designer to introduce a new style, but they’re unlikely to be the originator, more someone who is sensing the mood and commercialising it. An example is Mary Quant with mini skirts. She might be credited with “inventing” them, but hems were already rising and would have continued to do so regardless.
I mentioned recently that we went and saw a talk on Leigh Bowery – a great example of style coming from ordinary people who are doing something different, who then inspired artists like Boy George and Alexander McQueen. Perhaps it’s only fitting that we went then saw a film on the Haute Couture and one of fashion’s great personalities.
Diana Vreeland lived an enviable life: as a child she watched Nijinsky leap across a Parisian stage in the Ballet Russes, married a man with matinee idol looks, had two beautiful children and counted some of the most fascinating people of the last century as friends. She had money, style, intelligence and culture – and lived in interesting places at interesting times. Most of all, she loved the fresh and exciting.
I’m not sure that a career in the fashion magazine industry was really what she would have chosen: she would have excelled at many things, this self-described “lazy” woman who worked tirelessly and exhausted those around her. It is to our benefit that she did though – transforming the industry with her ideas and energy.
Diana in the ’30s.
Her career started in 1937 writing a column for “Harper’s Bazaar” and soon she was fashion editor – a role that saw her directing some of the major fashion photographers of the day including Louise Dahl-Wolfe who said:
“Fashion editors are of great importance before the photographing begins. If they have an eye for color, style, form, taste and individuality, they can pull together a ready-made dress in no time at all. Very few of them have the outstanding creativity of Diana Vreeland.”
Photograph of Diana Vreeland and husband Reed Vreeland, by Irving Cantor 1930s
Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, 1942
Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe 1953
Diana really hit her stride in 1962 when she became fashion editor at Vogue – and the ’60s had arrived. She recognised the spirit of rebellion and freedom having seen it as a young woman in the ’20s and relished the opportunity to stretch her imagination with fresh and wild fashion editorials that created the lush look we now recognise in “Mad Men” and other jetsetting adventures of the modern age.
Photo by Mark Shaw, mid 1960s.
“Going to meet her was like going to meet the Queen. She was over the top, and would go on about how she ‘adored’ me. I know I probably owe most of what happened in New York to her.” Twiggy, photographed by Richard Avedon in 1967.
Diana in the late ’60s, Photograph by: Jonathan Becker
“Red is the great clarifier – bright, cleansing, revealing. It makes all colors beautiful. I can’t imagine being bored with it – it would be like becoming tired of the person you love. I wanted this apartment to be a garden – but it had to be a garden in hell.”
Diana Vreeland in her living room, Photograph: Horst P. Horst, 1979
I loved this film: Diana makes for an enthralling subject, so full of life and wit. She was one of those people who gained momentum through her life, a whirlwind of enthusiasm and passion. We have so much to thank her for.
“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” opens soon in general release. All images and quote shameless borrowed from dianavreeland.com.
EDITED TO ADD: Here’s the Australian poster, with thanks to Michelle from Madman.