It’s hard to imagine today’s fashion editors would send their teams overseas with the vague directive “think of Cleopatra”. But Diana Vreeland, the revolutionary editor who led Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar through some of history’s most exciting fashion eras, and who later became the curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, was no ordinary editor. Famous not just for her brilliant eye but for her enormous, eccentric personality, she’s an inspiring and intriguing documentary subject, even after death.
This doco was filmed by her grand-daughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland so unsurprisingly it’s a mostly glowing, celebratory look at the style icon, with tributes from the likes of Anjelica Houston and glimpses of her intimidating side from Ali McGraw, who once worked with her as an assistant.
Immordino draws predominantly on interviews for Vreeland’s written memoirs by journalist George Plimpton, although the voiceovers provided by an actress are a strange touch. Then again, Vreeland was just as grandiose and kooky as the narrative intones. Anna Wintour may have become the world’s most famous fashion editor but her flat and unreadable persona is the antithesis to Vreeland’s wild, fanciful, theatrical character. Although much of the archival footage of Vreeland in her later years is grainy, her eccentric dress sense and tendency to talk in outrageous soundbites bring it to life.
What makes this such a joy to watch is not just the timeline of fashion highlights, but Vreeland’s unique perspective on life. She knew she was no beauty and yet made the most not just of her own flaws but by accentuating others’, such as Barbra Streisand’s Nefertiti nose and Penelope Tree’s woodland creature eyes.
Little is made of Vreeland’s personal life, a world she tended to neglect for her career. However there is a telling interview with her two sons in which it’s apparent that her life was first and foremost, about her work.