Diana Vreeland: Portrait of An Original Thinker
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
“Too much good taste can be very boring. Independent style, on the other hand, can be very inspiring.”
— Diana Vreeland
If you're not familiar with the name Diana Vreeland, a woman who was the leading voice and guiding hand in fashion for over four decades, then it's time to get acquainted. Although Diana Vreeland died in 1989, the unprecedented and undeniable perspective she brought to the fashion world gives her an unshakeable legendary status. The actual breadth of her career and the extent of her impact on fashion, style, and living is immeasurable. I believe most would agree that she's a perfect and more than worthy quarantine style muse and source for inspiration.
Diana Vreeland created the modern-day fashion editor. Before she arrived at Harper's Bazaar in 1936, the magazine (and others similar) were the domain of ladies of society who would offer advice on how women could please their husbands through cooking and maintaining a home. Diana arrived with her eccentric self-taught skills - she had almost no former education - and bold stylistic audacity and revolutionized the fashion world.
Vreeland's discovery and debut in the fashion and publishing industry is credited to the eagle eye of Carmel Snow, editor of Harper's Bazaar. Snow spotted Vreeland dancing at the St. Regis hotel in a white lace Chanel dress and bolero with roses in her hair and was so taken by her sense of style that she immediately offered Vreeland a job as a columnist. “But Mrs Snow,” Vreeland later recalled telling her in her memoir, D.V. “I’ve never worked. I’ve never been in an office in my life. I’m never dressed until lunch.” Nevertheless, Vreeland began writing her now-iconic “Why Don’t You?” column for Bazaar a short while later, dishing out often ridiculous but no less joyful advice:
"Why don't you ... put all your dogs in bright yellow collars and leads like all the dogs in Paris?"
“Why don’t you ... rinse your blond child’s hair in dead champagne to keep it gold, as they do in France?”
"Why don't you ... Paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys' nursery so they won't grow up with a provincial point of view?"
"Why don't you ... Have your bed made in China—the most beautiful bed imaginable, the head board and spread of yellow satin embroidered in butterflies, alighting and flying, in every size and in exquisite colors?"
The theme repeated over and over in Vreeland’s column was a personal mantra: Don’t just be your ordinary dull self. Why don’t you do something extraordinary?
Over the course of her career, Vreeland shaped two of the most prominent magazines of the century, and made fashion a substantial topic at one of New York's most influential museums. She launched the careers of Lauren "Betty" Bacall and Twiggy, was a champion of the bikini and blue jeans long before they were popular, and guided the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Diane von Furstenberg to design success. Before Anna Wintour, there was Diana Vreeland, the original flamboyant fashion editor that repeatedly reduced her staff to tears and had them pledging their loyalty.
In the documentary on her life, The Eye Has To Travel, Vreeland recalls being born “the ugly child”, constantly chastised by her mother for her big nose. As a leading fashion columnist and then editor, Vreeland challenged the preconceptions of beauty to present a new definition. DV's definition: "Push their faults. If they have a gap between their teeth, make it the most beautiful thing about them.’ Make an asset of your faults. If you’re tall, be taller– wear high heeled shoes. If you have a long neck, be proud of it, don’t try to hunch over. If you have a long nose, hold it up and make it your trademark. To DV, nice clothes were just the beginning for something deeper.
Perhaps one of her greatest contributions was putting a premium on personality over looks even while working in such a highly visual field. You can watch the fascinating film of her life and get a greater sense of this remarkable woman here.
Diana Vreeland was a free thinker, filled with ideas. and a true original. D.V. wasn't a trend forecaster - she set the trend. She alone decided what was fashionable. One of my favorite quotes by her is: “I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me—projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted.”
So, why don't you ... Get rid of that dining room set and just have a big open space where you can dance and live it up? I did! Thank you, Diana!