Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel

Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Featuring Diana Vreeland (archive footage), Anjelica Huston, David Bailey Club, Light House, Dublin, 80 min

BORN IN PARIS in 1903 to an American socialite – “a wild woman who liked to hunt lions” – and an English gentleman, Diana Vreeland was always destined to live a charmed life. Here, preserved in archival interviews, the one-time fashion editrix of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue recalls the gaiety and privilege of it all. Imagine a cod Homeric epic with lines like “the best thing about London is Paris” and subtitled “The Alternative Fabulous History of the 20th Century” and you’re halfway there.

As a child, Vreeland was simply mad about the Ballet Russe and the Belle Époque. Was Daighilev a friend of her parents? Why, of course. Everything, from here on, was increasingly marvellous. The family left America to avoid the crash and left Europe to avoid the war.

Diana learned to ride horseback in the Rockies: “I did of course ride a lot with Buffalo Bill,” she recalls. “A marvellous looking man.” She watched the coronation of George V and that, also, was pretty marvellous as these things go. She saw Josephine Baker during the Roaring Twenties and, as a “fast girl”, enjoyed the company of many marvellous Argentine and Mexican gigolos. She made underwear for Wallace Simpson’s “special weekend”. “My lingerie brought down the throne,” she cries.

Hmm. Somewhere between Vreeland’s account of Charles Lindbergh flying over her head and her translation of Dalziel, her birth name, as the Gaelic for “I dare”, we become aware that she is perhaps not the most reliable of narrators. Then again, frivolity and improving the truth was her business.

An unrivalled aptitude for reality enhancement would make Vreeland just as important as Coco Chanel in the evolution of what we now think of as fashion. Vreeland’s outlandish magazine fantasias would transform fashion photography from light measuring and pretty girls into mini-movie productions, replete with camels, sumo wrestlers and exotic locales. Under her watch as a fashion editor, the rag trade was no longer about clothes; it was about aspiration.

Between interviews and dodgy stories, Vreeland’s surviving sons are stoical about her madcap life. Former colleagues and models, including Anjelica Huston, pop up to outline Vreeland’s legacy.

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Diana’s granddaughter- in-law, allows for the ensuing contradictions. The Eye Has to Travel is not a hagiography, even if it is a rather glowing endorsement. The film is fun and inconsequential. Vreeland likely wouldn’t have had it any other way.