Posted by amybou on:
The life of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland spanned from her Belle Epoch birth in Paris in 1903, to her Ballets Russes-inspired teenage years (Diaghilev was a family friend), to her coming of age in New York's Jazz Age during the reign of Josephine Baker ("I was never out of Harlem in those days," Vreeland recalls), to starting a decades-long career as a fashion editor after Carmel Snow saw her dancing at the St. Regis in a white lace Chanel dress and a bolero in 1936 and offered her a position as a fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar. "Why don't you try it," was Snow's response to Vreeland’s protests that she had never worked a day in her life and wasn’t in the habit of dressing before noon.
And so “Why Don’t You...” became the title of Vreeland's whimsical and playful column, in which she challenged readers to do all sorts of fantastical things, such as paint the walls of their children’s nurseries with a map of the world so they don't grow up to be provincial, wash their child’s blonde hair in champagne as they do in France, and wear three enormous diamond stars arranged in your hair like the Duchess of Kent--a whole series of poetic, outlandish, and highly aspirational suggestions written in Vreeland’s signature epigrammatic style. In a comical moment in “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” the audience sees DV's great-granddaughter, Olivia, an elementary school-aged girl, read from the “Why Don’t You” column with quizzically raised eyebrows at one of the more over-the-top suggestions. But the outbreak of war soon put an end to the column’s frivolous fun.
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who is married to Vreeland’s grandson Alexander, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” covers as much territory as DV covered herself--from her work with surrealist artists and photographers during the 1930s-1940s, to her collaboration with a young Richard Avedon in the mid-1940s-1950s (he calls her a "brilliant crazy aunt who just exploded with imagination"), to taking a chance on unusual models, such as Veruschka, Barbara Streisand, and Penelope Tree during the 1960s. (“She saw things in people before they saw it themselves," says Diane von Furstenberg.) As for her obsession with the "youth quake" of the 1960s, when she could often be seen at Studio 54 and Andy Warhol's Factory, Joel Schumacher explains her affinty for the decade: "It was a revolution and probably brought back the Twenties to her." First at Harper’s Bazaar, then later at Vogue, Vreeland became known for her extravagant, fantasy-laden photo shoots, which were shot on location across the world, sometimes with elephants and leopards, often exoticizing other cultures and creating a “feast for the eyes.”
After her tenure at Vogue, DV re-invented herself at the age of seventy as a Special Consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, which was a "sleepy place" at the time, according to former museum director, Philippe de Montebello. Vreeland revolutionized The Costume Institute with her sense of fantasy, exaggeration, and play. The museum's conservators and curators were scandalized by her loosely interpretive approach, which "created a kind of feeling for the past," according to curator Harold Koda, rather than a strictly historically accurate representation of an era. An 18th-century wig had to be re-envisioned to reach the level of proportion DV saw fit--now she can go to the guillotine, Koda recalls Vreeland saying, after he recreated the wig to go nearly as high as the ceiling. An influential, inimitable iconoclast who spoke in “oblique haikus,” as Koda describes it, Vreeland believed that "our dreams and imagination" are "the only reality we know.”
In this artfully constructed film, we see Vreeland's singular vision and wide-ranging influence on fashion, photography, art, culture, publishing, and costume curation. With generous film clips, the transporting documentary will make you feel as if you were right there with Vreeland watching Josephine Baker at the Cotton Club, offering Wallis Simpson tips on what to wear on her infamous weekend with Prince Edward (“my little lingerie shop had brought down the throne,” Vreeland boasts of her early business venture), and advising Jackie Kennedy on what to wear to JFK’s inauguration. The film ends with a fanciful animated image that speaks to Vreeland’s talent for blending fact and fiction: we see her on an airplane with Charles Lindbergh, who she misremembers seeing fly above her family home in Brewster, New York in the 1930s. “The Eye Has to Travel” takes the audience on a journey not just through Vreeland’s legendary career, but through the cultural history of the twentieth century, and any lover of art, fashion, film, dance, or eccentric personalities should make an effort to see this film, which can be seen as a companion piece to “Bill Cunningham: New York.” It will also appeal to fans of "The September Issue."
So, “Why Don’t You” save the date for the May 18, 2012 release of the film, peruse the companion piece book, watch “Funny Face” with the knowledge that the editor character is based on Vreeland, and perhaps, to borrow a suggestion from DV, consider having a yellow satin bed entirely quilted in butterflies…