If Diana Vreeland were still alive, today would have been her 107th birthday. This would have officially made her really, really young for her age and might too have cleared up some confusion vis-a-vis her impenetrable, inimitable sense of joie de vivre. If not because we’d have accumulated more time to ask the seasoned vanguard about her secret sauce and its recipe than certainly because every year, today would serve as an important reminder that the Divine Mrs. V was a Leo.
According to one Susan Miller, this means that “her taste [wa]s superb and unfailing. Like chic French women (France is ruled by Leo,)…she [wa]s naturally extravagant. Yet she [wa]s warm, spontaneous and creative too.”
It all makes so much sense. Heck, if I learned anything from last year’s documentary, The Eye Has to Travel, it is not confirmation that blue jeans are in fact “the most beautiful things since the gondola,” (though it is great fodder for an argument that is pro trousers) or that “the bikini is the most important thing since the atom bomb,” (the full pieces of today are considerably more interesting). No. It is simply that I’ve already screwed up in the long run because I wasn’t born in Paris.
There have been dissertations and lengthy discussions circumventing the former editor-in-chief of American Vogue and her modus operandi since her death in 1989 but as Charlotte intelligently pointed out, what is so fundamentally interesting about Diana Vreeland is how exceptionally well she amplified her job as an editor and ultimately allowed it to assume the definition and position it holds today.
During her tenure as an editor, the bon vivant was detail-oriented in an extreme, almost exhaustive way. She brought international editorials to American publications – even during a highly deflating recession era – and scrutinized every last detail of a photo to cultivate a very specific image, shrieking a very specific point. In one interview, she explained her relationship with photos. “A good photograph was never what I was looking for. I like to have a point. I had to have a point or I didn’t have a picture.”
She went on to foretell the future of photography whether she meant to or not: “This is what I’ve always found so fascinating about paparazzi pictures. They catch something unintended, on the wing… they get that thing. It’s the revelation of personality.” Is that not exactly the premise under which street style is built?
Vreeland had a powerful intuition that was not tethered to any pre-existing format about what the public desired and that is what she projected. What’s so wonderful about the magazines of today is the sense of unattainability that they propose, married to the invitation we as readers receive to participate in the abstract. We are not supposed to feel grounded in reality while reading our glossies and that is precisely what makes our engaging with them so fantastical.
But there’s no reason a blog can’t offer than same sense of beautiful removal too. Below you’ll find fifteen of our favorite Vreeland-fostered utterances to inject a breath of flagrant, fresh air into your prosaic Monday morning. Interject at any point.
On beauty: “You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.”
On narcissism (Gen. Y) vs. vanity (Gen. X): “There’s nothing more boring than narcissism- the tragedy of being totally…me. We’re all capable of it. And we all know examples of it- these beautiful tragedies… I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.”
On taste – which is different from style: ”Vulgarity is a very important ingredient in life. I’m a great believer in vulgarity- if it’s got vitality. A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste- it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”
On style – which is different from clothes: “You gotta have style. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it you’re nobody.”
On clothing – which is different from consumption: “I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life your living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later.”
On the world of fashion magazines before her emergence: “I was always fascinated by the absurdities and the luxuries and the snobbism of the world that fashion magazines showed. Of course, it’s not for everyone. Very few people had ever breathed the pantry air of a woman who wore the kind of dress Vogue used to show when I was young. But I lived for that world, not only during my years in the magazine business but for years before, because I was always of that world — at least in my imagination.”
On what Marc Jacobs has become a master of doing: “I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY NEVER KNEW THEY WANTED.”
On the blazon of nutrition that chases joie de vivre: “Peanut butter is the greatest invention since Christianity.” (according to Harper’s Bazaar she ate a whole-wheat peanut-butter-and-marmalade sandwich, washed down with scotch everyday for lunch).
On thinking vs. being: “But don’t think you were born too late. Everyone has that illusion. But you aren’t. The only problem is if you think too late.”
On dreaming vs. being: “I think we only live through our dreams and our imagination. That’s the only reality we really ever know.”
On giving in to your adolescent pain: “I think when you’re young you should be a lot with yourself and your sufferings. Then one day you get out where the sun shines and the rain rains and the snow snows and it all comes together.”
On ideas vs reality, which may too subscribe to a Joan Didion-related school of thought: “I’m terrible on facts. But I always have an idea. If you have an idea, you’re well ahead.”
On marrying worlds, allowing the old to remain new, and giving the new a sense of history: “What’s extraordinary is the way everything modern fits in with everything old. It’s all a matter of combining. There’s no beginning or end there — only continuity.”
Images: Slide 1- photographed by Harry Benson, slides 2, 9, 16- Courtesy of the Diana Vreeland Estate, slides 3, 4, 10, 19- photographed by Richard Avedon, slide 5- Horst P. Horst, slides 6, 14, 18- Photographer Unknown, slides 7, 8, 17- Courtesy of Fairchild/Conde Nast, slide 11- Photographed by Sherman, slides 12, 13- photographed by Priscilla Rattazzi, slide 15- photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe