Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

On Saturday afternoon, we treated ourselves to a viewing of the documentary "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel" which had just opened the day before.  We sashayed down to the Angelika Theater in Soho.  Diana was famous for her love of red, so we both sported scarlet nails and just couldn't resist modeling ourselves after the film's poster.

Well, when we saw who was right in front of us in line, we certainly knew were were in the right place at the right time! Here's Who's Who, dahlings: Valerie is next to legendary illustrator Robert W. Richards, whose work we have loved for years and whom we had finally met last year at the New York Public Library's exhibition of theater posters by Fraver aka Frank Verlizzo. Next to Richard is none other than hairstylist Steven Knoll who has elevated the craft of hairstyling to an art form.  His studio on Madison Avenue at 59th Street is in the middle of everything. On Jean's left is the Uber Dandy himself, Patrick McDonald. In one of the bags he is carrying is the most fabulous tie with shadow figures wearing top hats.  He was sweet enough to let us drool over it.  In the front row is entertainer extraordinaire Joey Arias. Famous for his impersonations of grande dames as varied as Billie Holiday and Joan Crawford,  his performances are memorable.  One wonders if he's gathering material for a reincarnation of D.V.!?!  Right before we entered the theater, Patrick said goodbye for the group, saying they'd make a mad dash for seats together.  We were seated across the aisle and noted the occasional appreciative chuckles emanating from their vicinity.

So many things we could tell you about this very thorough and quite interesting movie, written by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, her granddaughter-in-law, and full of great photographs, video interview snippets, and anecdotes from her friends and family. Why don't we just tell you a few, so you'll go see it yourself? Diana (that's Dee-anna) spent her early life in Europe. Her parents were well connected, so Diana got to see Diaghilev's Ballets Russes on numerous occasions, and decades later was still wide-eyed telling of seeing Nijinsky leap through a prop window.

Vreeland never kidded herself that she was a great beauty. Her own mother pointed this out to her - repeatedly - very early in her life. Asked by an interviewer to touch upon the subject of her looks, she replied "Oh, let's not go there." Still, Vreeland clearly knew how to style herself early on. Here one can see a classic look of the time, reminiscent of a Georgia O'Keeffe or a Frida Kahlo.

While working at Harper's Bazaar, Vreeland discovered Lauren Bacall, only one of her many discoveries.

Vreeland's granddaughter-in-law interviewed photographer David Bailey and his 1960s model/collaborator Penelope Tree, who separately both told a story they still clearly cherish. Asked to do a photo layout for Vreeland, by then working at Vogue, they made several different attempts, all of which were rejected. Finally, they came up with a series they were both quite proud of, and Diana was ecstatic over it. "Of course, I can't use it", she said finally, after lavishly praising it. Here both Tree and Bailey burst into laughter in their separate interviews, quoting Diana as explaining "There's no languor in the lips."  Vreeland was apparently famous for cryptic pronouncements that her staff had to do their best to interpret.

One of Vreeland's children said that she preferred the nightlife of the '70s to the company of her own children, saying she needed to be around younger people. This photo of Diana with David Bowie (at his most magnificent) reminds us of an interesting factoid:  Joey Arias used to work at Fiorucci where he met and became good friends with musician Klaus Nomi.  Joey and Klaus appeared on Saturday Night Live with David Bowie for a live performance of TVC 15. Talk about coincidence.

When Vogue let Vreeland go, she was already 70, and went into a tailspin.  Luckily, she soon found work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, bringing out of storage the Met's astonishing collection of vintage clothes. Vreeland tells of Philippe de Montebello ostentatiously asking Vreeland to state her credentials at a large meeting, knowing that she had no academic training.  Vreeland went on to describe giving the new director a thorough tongue lashing at that same large meeting, pointing out that it was thanks to her shows that people were finally returning to the forgotten museum. Below is Vreeland with a very young Andre Leon Talley.

Vreeland at her desk, surrounded with photos.

Vreeland in her famously crimson apartment, which she asked interior designer Billy Baldwin to decorate "like a garden in hell".

Go see it! 

What we're wearing:
Valerie: vintage Hattie Carnegie hat, beaded squid earrings by Olya (Nepinka) on Etsy, shirt by Talbot's, unlabeled bolero, felt cuff by O-matic (of Brooklyn), Betsey Johnson pants, Chinese Laundry high heeled sneakers.

Jean: Amy Downs turban; Lilith jumpsuit; Donna Karan turtleneck; Pataugus shoes; vintage black polka dot bag; black leather cross-body bag (from a street vendor); vintage wooden gum ball necklace; vintage bakelite and plastic bangles and earrings.

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping that film comes here. What a fascinating quartet of men you had to pass the time in line with!