Monday, August 05, 2013

Diana Vreeland - The Eye Has to Travel

"Though one may be rich, one's life does not consist in possessions."

Yesterday's readings at Mass were all the more striking for me since I had been watching, "The Eye Has To Travel" a documentary on the life and career of Diana Vreeland.

As a young man, I worked in the low end of fashion - fashion display - aka Merchandise Presentation.  I did windows and cases, and dressed myself very well, and followed the fashion industry attentively.  Later, after a brief time away, I returned to the business- or retail; it had grown in esteem and importance - but it was essentially the same.  In the '80's money was poured into every aspect of retail and merchandising, therefore the illusion became more glittery and vibrant and expensive.  Fashion is all about illusion and artifice, exaggeration and pretense.  It is a business, exploiting beauty and glamour, gilding lilies and weeds. 

Diana Vreeland excelled in gilding both. 

"She was practiced at the art of deception." - Rolling Stones

The film is so good.  It details everything about the woman and the development of fashion, the growth of the industry, throughout the 20th century.  She mastered the art of performance, the mythology of fashion, and the illusion of beauty.  She draped and accessorized homely mannequins and made them fantasy images of great beauty.

Vreeland lived a grand illusion, and promoted a mystique, discovering and elevating celebrity into high cult.  She was a genius.

If you are at all interested in fashion and the role it played in the 20th century - especially as it relates to the revolutionary spirit of the time - the 'emancipation' of women and sexuality - you should watch the film.

Mrs. Vreeland invented and exaggerated herself to the extent she became a legend in her own lifetime, and even now after her death, she retains a certain cult status.

The greed that is idolatry.

I've watched the film at least 4 times now.  I'm still trying to make sense of the 'period' and why I was so captivated by it.  It was quite a superficial time of course, though fictional characters such as Miranda Priestly would insist that fashion is a reality which makes the world go 'round - especially the world of consumerism, which feeds finance and big business.  Vreeland adored money and said she couldn't live without it.  She kept herself busy - in an interview she told Dick Cavett, 'I don't reinvent myself, I go on from project to project - I'm doing the same work all of the time.'  She also boasted she had worked 7 days a week for 30 years - and I do admire her for it.  I'm also impressed by her accomplishments and insights on culture.  Her work was her life - and it was a gala, a banquet, as Auntie Mame might say.  In fact, she was the original Auntie Mame in many respects.  She was also the original Miranda Priestly - the Devil Wears Prada - her favorite room designed by Billy Baldwin was affectionately called, 'My garden in hell'.

Diana Vreeland intended to remain young, and to die young - no matter what her age.  In some sense, she did so, I think.  Perhaps she never really grew up... she believed so strongly in pretend.

Haute couture or fashion always appears to be forever young and new, but in some sense, it is really a rearrangement of costly things people consider important to enhance themselves with, to make them beautiful or glamorous, desirable or envied - it is an ostentation, a masquerade.  It is a project that goes on from era to era - it is essentially the same work all of the time.  Much as Diana described herself.

Although, something Mrs. Vreeland said actually goes beyond fashion and 'beauty'; "Style is everything... style is a way of life.  Without it, you are nothing."

Diana Vreeland had that.  Sadly, it too is vanity... in the end, it too is nothing.


  1. Diana Vreeland has intrigued me as well, though now I wonder if her life was ultimately rather sad. She felt that she needed to create a different past for herself...and fill every moment with work and activity. Vanity! Sunday's gospel continues to reveal itself to me in all sorts of ways....and while I loved her sitting room, it really was like a garden in hell- yikes!
    Have you seen Billy Cunningham New York? It is another wonderful film about a different side of the fashion industry and the subject of the movie is remarkable.

  2. That's it - she felt she needed to create a different past for herself. So many people in fashion can be like that - or are like that.

    I haven't seen Billy Cunningham New York - I look into it. Thanks!

    1. sb 'I'll look into it.'

      I did and I will get it to watch. Can't wait.

      Thanks Jane.


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