Monday, September 24, 2012

The Devil Wore Chanel

Whether you've heard of her or not -- or even if you have no interest in fashion, magazines or fashion magazines -- I can't imagine anyone not thoroughly enjoying "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel," the joyous documentary about the famed Harper's Bazaar and Vogue editor, who became a powerhouse in the world of fashion and beauty despite no education and a rather unfortunate appearance, eventually becoming a celebrity in her own right. (Harper's editor in chief Carmel Snow offered Vreeland a job after merely seeing her dancing in a club one night looking incredibly stylish in Chanel!) Based on memoir interviews conducted by George Plimpton and chuck full o' glorious television appearances with the likes of Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley, Mike Douglas and Dick Cavett, Mrs. Vreeland could hardly answer a question -- no matter how dark or serious the topic -- without giving a hilarious sound bite of a response. As fashionistas know, Vreeland was the original devil who wore Prada Chanel, who ruled her magazine with an iron fist, discovered Lauren Bacall, Twiggy and Edie Segweick, advised Jacqueline Kennedy and later turned the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art into the preeminent New York social gala of the year. (Anna Wintour now oversees the event.) She also had a film based on her legendarily difficult reputation as a boss, "Who Are You, Polly Magoo?" (1964)., as well as a character based on her in  "Lady in the Dark" (1941).  (That is not a typo -- she started at Harper's in 1937 and was editor in chief of Vogue until 1971.) Sure, the documentary treads lightly on less pleasant subjects, like the fact that her mother openly favored her more beautiful younger sister (even a Psych 101 student could figure that one out!), and that Vreeland's two sons felt nothing they could do could measure up to her hanging out with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty at Studio 54. But Diana was all about turning your weaknesses into your strengths. So while the kids may have suffered at the hand of their mother's distracted child-rearing technique  -- the resentment practically jumps off the screen during Frederick and Tim Vreeland's periodic appearances -- Diana's trailblazing career and self-styled rise to prominence are the film's greatest strengths.


bcarter3 said...

I'm far from being a fashionista--I stopped watching Project Runway when the winners became undefendably awful--but I fell in love Diana Vreeland after seeing the DV sections of Bruce Weber's movie Chop Suey, back in 2001.

There's also a wonderful biography called simply Diana Vreeland, by Eleanore Dwight, which is full of fascinating pictures, including shots from her famous "Garden in Hell" apartment.

Will definitely be seeing the new film!

rico said...

Vreeland also gave Cher a break when trying to transition from hippie chick to TV glamour star. Her comment upon meeting Cher,"My dear, your head is shaped just like a pineapple!"
But Cher got to do a fashion shoot with Richard Avedon that showed her potential...

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