Born into a family of privilege, Diana Dalziel Vreeland grew up amid the fashionable of New York's Upper East Side. With a famously alluring mother and a classically beautiful sister, young Diana often felt isolated and unloved. But she was saved from her unhappy childhood by her audacious imagination as well as the grit and determination that would shape her extraordinary life.Read more...
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Born into a family of privilege, Diana Dalziel Vreeland grew up amid the fashionable of New York's Upper East Side. With a famously alluring mother and a classically beautiful sister, young Diana often felt isolated and unloved. But she was saved from her unhappy childhood by her audacious imagination as well as the grit and determination that would shape her extraordinary life.
Talent-spotted by legendary editor Carmel Snow in 1936, Diana joined Harper's Bazaar as a fashion editor, where her singular point of view and signature style quickly made her a major creative force in American fashion. Under her influence, American designers became chic during World War II, and with her pizzazz she inspired a raft of fashion talent on both sides of the Atlantic.
Passed over as successor to Snow, Diana did the unthinkable and accepted the title of editor-in-chief of Bazaar's archrival, Vogue. In Diana's Vogue, women were not only offered shockingly short skirts and silver hipster pants: even more radically, they were encouraged to embrace the free spirit of the sixties, to resist fashion orders from on high, and to use their own imaginations in re-creating themselves. When Women's Wear Daily asked Diana, "What is the function of a fashion magazine?" she replied, "To instruct when possible, to delight, to give pleasure, to bring to the reader what interests her. Everybody makes an appearance every day."
In 1971 Diana was fired from Vogue. She reluctantly accepted a new position for herself at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as Special Consultant to the Costume Institute, only to reveal a new dimension to her brilliance. Her first show, on the work of designer Cristobal Balenciaga, drew more than 150,000 people to the museum, and the show that followed smashed all the record books. The Metropolitan was stunned, and today's blockbuster exhibition was born.
In this first full-length biography of Diana Vreeland, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart portrays a visionary: a fearless innovator who inspired designers, models, photographers, and artists.
Vreeland reinvented the way we think about style and where we go to find it. As an editor, curator, and wit, Diana Vreeland made a lasting mark and remains an icon for generations of fashion lovers.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Adored by some and thought abrasive and disagreeable by others, fashion icon Diana Vreeland and her psyche and cultural milieu are superbly deconstructed by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart (Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age). Vreeland (1903–1989) was fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and later the infamous editor-in-chief of Vogue during the tumultuous 1960s. Told she was ugly by her troubled and beautiful mother, Vreeland escaped into a private fantasy world. Her creation of an idealized image she called the Girl, coupled with a creative flair “and the development of an idiosyncratic way with words,” propelled Vreeland into becoming one of the most influential tastemakers in American fashion. Photos by Richard Avedon, snapped around the world from the Arctic Circle to the Far East, paired with “Youthquake” fashions modeled by Jean Shrimpton and Veruschka, exposed readers to new ways of seeing fashion and the world. Vreeland possessed that rare sense for the next “it” object, person, or music style of the moment. “She looked instead for trends, particularly those that played themselves out through fashion and she put her own stamp on the decade as she did so.” Stuart’s biography is a tasty and erudite study of a complicated woman and her turbulent and colorful cultural life and times. (Dec.)
The patina of taste
Diana Vreeland launched herself at Harper’s Bazaar with the column “Why Don’t You?”: “Why don’t you rinse your blonde child’s hair in dead champagne to keep its gold, as they do in France?” Such love for the superficial and luxurious may have been out of step with the austerity of the 1930s, but it foretold the direction of much of 20th-century American fashion. As fashion editor at both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue—where she was an early promoter of “youthquake” trends in the 1960s—and later as curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, Vreeland’s professional influence was as eccentric as her personal style.
Rail-thin with severe black hair and a distinctive, crane-like profile, Vreeland’s style developed as compensation for her perception that she was unattractive. In the insightful new biography Empress of Fashion, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart shows how Diana’s debutante mother rejected her “ugly” daughter in favor of her more conventionally pretty sister. This hurt Diana, but she did not allow it to shape her life. Reinventing herself as “The Girl”—immaculate, stylish and positive—led to five decades of fashion-forward professional success.
Stuart uses Vreeland’s vulnerable roots to create a sympathetic portrait of Diana, and also to explain her notorious lies about her background, such as her stories about growing up in Belle Époque Paris instead of New York City. She believed in telling the best story possible; if that meant gliding over the hurt of being an unloved daughter, so be it.
Diana Vreeland’s life story is oddly inspiring. Why don’t you give a copy of Empress of Fashion to your favorite fashionista this holiday season?