Books · Fashion & Beauty

Book Review: “Diana Vreeland: The Modern Woman”

 

Diana Vreeland has always seemed very, very French to me.

She was born in Paris, of course, and much has been written about her exceedingly distingué family, but that’s not the point really.

Her heritage was Anglo-American, but it was her philosophy of life — getting on with it, getting up and getting out there (dressed to make it worth the effort), inventing her destiny, being an original, knowing when to say “non” or “oui, oui, oui!” — that made her seem so quintessentially French.

“You gotta have style to get up in the morning,” she famously said. More proof: “You don’t have to be beautiful to be wildly attractive.”

She is a “never before” and a “never since.” Diana Vreeland invented Diana Vreeland.

As far as I’m concerned, she is the definition of the exceedingly annoying je ne sais quoi so often used to explain what Frenchwomen have and the rest of us do not. Perhaps that is why she was so much more than the fashion world’s most creative editor. Throughout her long career she consistently proved that being different, being prescient, being bold and being flamboyant made for an interesting life.

She was often outrageous and readily admitted she was addicted to exaggeration, but how can one be a true original if one cannot shake up the quotidian? “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world,” she proclaimed and then she set out to make it so.

Luckily for us, she shared her vision in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she showed us that exhibitions of contemporary fashion fit quite nicely with art and culture.

DianaVreelandModernWoman_coverDiana Vreeland: The Modern Woman, Rizzoli, $60. Click here to purchase on Amazon.com.

In his latest tribute to his grandmother, a beautiful, heavy, 300-plus page coffee table objet, Alexander Vreeland traced her 26-year career at Harper’s Bazaar. There could be no more perfect title for his book than The Modern Woman. It says it all. In page after page of clothes, some clean and crisp, others ethereally dreamy and intricate, draw the reader into the book. At the same time I was delighted to read some of the stories that accompanied the layouts. Both the clothes and the advice in the articles — written with a spritely sophistication — seem so modern today: exercise, fresh air, eating well, and in the early decades, conversations about plastic surgery and yoga.

The pages take us on a chronological journey through her career from 1936 to 1962. As we move along we see the evolution of fashion within the context of the world it inhabited. We see Vreeland’s brilliance, her comprehension of the culture of the pre- and post-war years and the radical societal changes culminating in the Pop 60s. Most intriguingly, she understood what women wanted, how they had changed their attitudes along with their clothes. Like all true visionaries, she knew what women wanted before they knew they wanted it.

Some of the photographs she styled were fantastical —Suzy Parker in a sumptuous gown gazing up at an elephant for example — but others were something entirely different.

Long before the rest of the pack, she was on to the idea of using dressing as a means to convey an aspirational lifestyle. She seemed to understand instinctively that maybe the right dress at the right moment might change a woman’s life.

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  • D. A. Wolf March 28, 2017 at 11:29 am

    This book really sounds too good to pass up. What a wonderful description of a certain “panache” and elegant individualism we think of as so French. And that note from Mrs. Vreeland must be a true treasure.

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  • AA March 24, 2017 at 8:06 am

    What an incredible experience! Thanks for sharing with us. DV was fabulous and quirky and believed in change- our kind of woman!

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