FC0847840743Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years
Edited by Alexander Vreeland
Publisher: Rizzoli

A recent evening found Women’s Voices and their guests in the intimate and stunning Verdura showroom admiring vintage and contemporary jewelry and listening to Alexander Vreeland discuss the virtues of his grandmother, Diana Vreeland

“My grandmother’s unique sense of style was deeply personal and it permeated every aspect of her life.” So begins Alexander Vreeland’s tribute to his ‘Nonina,’ the legendary editor of VOGUE from 1962 until 1971.  Alexander Vreeland has assembled in this gorgeous, oversized volume many of Vreeland’s classic memorandums to  staffers whose mission it was to realize Vreeland’s vision in the pages of VOGUE. Certain and decisive, with a pronounced style and grammar, Vreeland issued edicts to the magazine’s staff,  their names listed in columnar form at the top of many of the memos with titles long fallen into disuse.  “Mrs” and “Miss” predominate, along with the occasional aristocratic title “Baron” or “Countess.” 

Accompanying the memos, many of which are hilarious, are images from the Vreeland years at the world’s leading fashion magazine. Mrs. Vreeland knew what she liked, and she urged her editors to bring her specific, curated ideas about fashion to the pages of the magazine.  Among those she championed are models  Twiggy, Veruschka, Candice Bergen, Marissa Berenson, Lauren Hutton, and photographers Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, and Irving Penn.  The discerning eye appreciates that Mrs. Vreeland is as responsible for the oracular status of the magazine as is anyone in the present era.

When she joined the magazine Mrs. Vreeland was nearly 60 years old, an age when most women of her class did not work outside the home.  When she left VOGUE, she became a consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum.  She loved her role as nabob of fashion, a position that afforded her unfettered entrée to Rudolph Nureyev, Maria Callas, Picasso, the haute couturiers of Europe, and the kickier avant garde designers.  Her confidence was contagious. 

“I am in no way a sentimentalist about age—I am not a great believer ‘that a face with lines and a character that has known many experiences has more, or less beauty than youth’—I believe only in the specific woman herself at any age, and I believe style carries all. . . and that applies to any age. . .” (emphasis in the original).  (December 6, 1968, writing to Miss Anita Colby). 

She had pronounced opinions about everything:  ponytails, lip gloss, the strong face of a woman, embroidery. . .

“The sticky situation with fringe is, of course, extremely serious.”

“I do think we should specialize in magenta, bright red, violet, purple, etc.”

“I repeat again the importance of knee socks.” 

“This is urgent! I am alerting you to something. Every picture in which the girls appear in dresses below their knee they look bowlegged.” 

“No tacky shoes.” 

Emphatic and dramatic, Mrs. Vreeland, describing a racehorse, tells her editors that the beautiful animal “knocks the top off the sky.” She cautioned editors about language inflation in a memo about George Balanchine, saying,

“Also, though I do not know of a great choreographer, don’t you think this title—“the greatest living” isn’t a bit much?  “George Balanchine, the Great Choreographer” to me suffices. . . As far as I know, he has not changed ballet at all, but maintained a company very well. . . However, if someone who follows the New York City Ballet consistently and sincerely believes completely and entirely that he deserves the title (and not because “who else is there???”) then okay.”

Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years is a reminder of an icon from an elegant age.  It too, “knocks the top off the sky.” 

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  • diane November 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    This is an amazing review of just the kind of women your site profiles now: beginning a new career as the editor in chief of Vogue at 60!! This sounds like the perfect book as a gift for my many fashion obsessed (in a good way) friends.
    Thanks for sharing this with your readers.

  • Roz Warren November 22, 2013 at 9:53 am

    “the importance of knee socks!” “No tacky shoes!” What a hoot. Nice write-up! Why no byline?