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Fashion on Film: Movie Review: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

  • It’s easy for us to be “simply mad” about Diana Vreeland, because she was, in her own words, “simply mad about everything!” The inimitable spirit of the late fashion icon infuses every inch of the fashion documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.

Fashion on Film: Movie Review: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Much of the film is presented in her own “maahvelous” voice, either in interviews with Jane Pauley, Diane Sawyer and Dick Cavett or in recreated voiceover of conversations between Vreeland and George Plimpton from the ‘80’s. What comes across is a larger than life persona whose joie de vivre was contagious.

It’s that combination of enthusiasm and pluck coupled with a unique eye and an original mind that propelled Vreeland to 20th century fashion royalty. The movie chronicles her defining roles at Harper’s Bazaar, as Vogue fashion editor and a stint at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These formidable American establishments have the vast influence on fashion that they do today, solely because she was at their helm.

Vreeland led the way out of the ‘50’s style desert and changed the landscape of fashion. Mobilized by her endless curiosity and openness to anything and everything new, she claimed she could see things about people before people saw them themselves. She celebrated Barbra Streisand’s nose, recognized Cher’s star quality and put Twiggy in a magazine for the first time -- for each, making the unheard of choice to highlight their flaws. She ran images of bikinis considered scandalous even by her own staff and popularized jeans, speaking enthusiastically of denim in one of the most gorgeous non-sequiturs ever created, “since the gondola, jeans are the most beautiful thing”.

Such an individual vision did not come without a cost. In interview after interview, models, photographers, former assistants and designers share how difficult she was to work for, demanding that their work measure up to her exacting standards. Yet, each of them recounts their tale of Vreeland’s uncompromising work ethic with a slight grin on his or her face. It’s as if her toughness was mitigated by her personality, charm and oh, so right pulse on what makes the perfect fashion, political or cultural statement. Her own son is the most candid of them all when he says about his mother,  “When you never express any negatives, you never get to emotion.”

The film doesn’t dwell on the negative either. It’s a loving portrait of Vreeland, created by her granddaughter, Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Along with over 60 interviews and terrific archival images that are expertly woven together at a fun, fast-paced clip that matches her grandmother’s exuberance, Immordino Vreeland makes wonderful use of the magazine spreads that Vreeland edited.

Most of the images from the pages are set in exotic locales with extraordinary models doing stylized things in extravagant garb being photographed by celebrity photographers like Richard Avedon. Fashion as fantasy is a commonplace concept today. Vreeland created it. It’s no wonder she wears the crown as the “Empress of Fashion”. Indeed, the film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is worthy of the queen.

Available on Amazon: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

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