Thursday 20 September 2012

Flamboyance: "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel"

Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) spanned the 20th century. Long before she became America's most prominent fashion guru, she claimed to have crossed paths with Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Buffalo Bill; she partied in Harlem through the Roaring Twenties, and in Paris in the Thirties, where she boasted she brought it was she who King Edward to his knees, by selling Wallis Simpson her lingerie; she saw Hitler at the opera one night before the War in Munich, and found it incredible anyone with that moustache could be taken seriously. Later on, she guided Jackie O. on what to wear for her husband's inauguration, and decamped to London just as the Swinging Sixties came to town. She'd make a tremendous character for a Woody Allen film, if Allen still knew how to write strong, forthright, funny women.

The Eye Has To Travel, an affectionate documentary portrait overseen by Vreeland's daughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, collages its subject's memories - as told to George Plimpton during the writing of her biography - along with archive newsreel, film clips (Vreeland inspired at least two lightly fictionalised characters in turn-of-the-Sixties movies), and generally glowing testimonies from colleagues, designers and celebrities. It's still a fashion documentary, in which the interviewees gush "she wore flats and black tights before anybody even thought about it", as though Vreeland were responsible for some vast evolutionary leap forwards, but it never takes itself too seriously, in part because Vreeland herself never seemed to take herself too seriously. As extracts from her journalism suggest, this was a gal less interested in the truth of the period than she was in the life of the party. 

Vreeland works best as a repository of mad ideas: the suggestions in her early "Why Don't You?" column ("Every girl should train as a geisha", "Wash your child's hair with champagne") owed less to practical experience than an especially boozy lunch. Overlooked by an adventuress mother for a sister who was - by all accounts - far less of an ugly duckling, her most constructive contribution to modern aesthetics may have been her support for unconventional beauties, encouraging her models to turn apparent flaws into unique selling points: she was gaga for Cher and Barbra, and did as much as anybody to open the pages of Vogue and Harper's up to the smoky charms of Anjelica Huston, as well as blonde-haired, blue-eyed all-American girls like Lauren Hutton. It's telling she was effectively exiled as the one-size-fits-all commercialism of today's fashion industry reared its very ugly head; those rushing to see it direct from London Fashion Week might like to think about that. "Some people create fashion. Diana was fashion," quips one interviewee - yet this engaging film positions Vreeland as fashion at its best: flamboyant and colourful, and ever-so-slightly cuckoo.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment