Diana Vreeland (1903 – 1989), Empress of fashion, taste and style, was one of the most influential figures in the history of fashion. Longtime editor of Harper’s Bazaar, then Vogue she followed up by being consultant to The Costume Institute Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Her individual style drew fashion photographers, keen to portray her unique flair.
Her innate vision enabled her to discover fashion ideas and designers, personalities and photographers. Jacqueline Kennedy, eager to avoid criticism of her choice in Parisian fashion, sought Diana Vreeland’s advice in dressing for her husband’s inauguration in 1961.
She connected her with American fashion designer, Oleg Cassini who went on to become her chief designer.
The friendship between Jacqueline Kennedy and Diana Vreeland continued for many years.
Diana is also credited with discovering Lauren Bacall. At age 16 Bacall sat for the March 1943 cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Quoting Bacall: ‘Vreeland put a suit on me, told me which makeup to use—but very little. ‘Betty, I don’t want to change your look.’ When all was done she put a scarf round my neck—knew just how to tie it, a little off-center—and I was ready for my first sitting with Harper’s Bazaar.’
Hollywood’s attention was grabbed. What followed was a screen test and a name change and the rest is history.
Diana’s colour of choice was red. She lacquered her hair a deep navy blue and pulled it back firmly back. She popularised the turtleneck sweater and the thong sandal.
She was famous for her quotes as much as her style
“People who eat white bread have no dreams.”
“Unshined shoes are the end of civilisation.”
“Never fear being vulgar, just boring.”
“It’s not the dress, it’s the life you have in that dress.”
“You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive.”
Richard Avedon is quoted as having said of her: ‘She was and remains the only genius fashion editor’.
As consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, she curated fashion exhibitions, parties and events, laying the basis for the major fashion event known today as the Met Gala.
When asked in 1982 how she would like to appear in a future MET exhibition of women of style she replied: ‘I’d like to be very luxuriously dressed. I’d like to have the most luxurious black cashmere sweater, the most luxurious black satin pants, very beautiful stockings, very beautiful shoes – marvelous shoes – and whatever would be suitable around the neck.”
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Beginning in 1936, when she became a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazzar, Vreeland established herself as a controversial visionary with an astonishing ability to invent and discover fashion ideas, designers, personalities and photographers. She was a memorable writer with a vivid personality and a talent for coining aphorisms.
When Vreeland died in 1989, one writer declared her the “voice of fashion for decades.” More than that, she was fashion’s eye, its guiding hand. 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. One can’t help but agree with Avedon when he declared that she was the “only genius fashion editor.”