You know all about “pink is the navy blue of India” and “wash your blond child’s hair with dead champagne” and “the bikini is the most important invention since the H-bomb”, but you may have been busy elsewhere when Diana Vreeland’s memoir appeared.
Well, the former fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and the onetime editor-in-chief of Vogue was just as outlandish in her book as she was in the slick pages of fashion magazines.
And just as grand. In the first three pages of D .V., she namedrops Irving (“Swifty”) Lazar, Oscar de la Renta, a tony London restaurant called San Lorenzo, a bare-assed Jack Nicholson and Ahmet Ertegun. If you are of a certain age and know your way around Media and Society, this is delectable fare. If not — and don’t blame yourself: Mrs. V. was born in 1906 — this will read like fiction.
Which it is.
Five years before her death, I profiled Diana Vreeland for New York Magazine. It was a remarkable experience for a journalist who likes his facts to be…well, factual. From time to time Mrs. V. alighted on data I could confirm; when she did, it was an event. Her concerns were more exalted. Beauty. Poetry. And, not least, mythology — her own. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
“What’s the name of that 7th Avenue designer who loathes me so?” she once asked her pal Baron Nicky de Gunzburg.
“Legion,” he replied.
Not quite, though Mrs. V’s dreams of “a suggestion of a shadow never seen before” routinely drove lesser mortals mad. What is true is that she was a remarkable performance artist — a self-created actress who played her role 24/7. For although she was born to money and married well, the bottom line was that she was completely dependent on a salary. And so were her husband and kids, for Reed Vreeland had no skill in business.
And yet she adored him. He left her during World War II. “Reed was living in Montreal through the war, working for British interests,” she writes in her memoir. “It was a very vivid period in my life. For seven years, I was by myself.” What she does not say: He was living with another woman. But on his return, he was the prodigal husband. And when he died, she mourned him deeply — though, in typical Vreeland style, there was no funeral and she was back at the office the next day.
Bill Blass knew her well. And he was compassionate about her self-invention: “’Part of her creativity was that she took perfect liberty in exaggerating or changing things as she saw fit or wanted them to be.” So she pretended she was rich, had her shoes — including the soles — shined and her sheets ironed every day. She didn’t show up at Vogue until noon. And no fashion editor of her era ever equaled her hotel bills in Paris.
What a show! What a monument to the ephemeral!
At the end of our conversations, I asked her how a mannequin representing her might be dressed in some future Fashion Institute display. She didn’t have to think: “I’d like to have on the most luxurious cashmere sweater; the most luxurious satin pants, very beautiful stockings, very beautiful shoes — marvelous shoes — and whatever would be suitable around the neck.”
Her book is just that creamy.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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