A Goddess in the Family




Dear Readers,

The Editorial Team of TextileFuture is proposing to you just one item, that was firstly published in the Wall Street Journal Magazine and we proudly present it to you. It is entitled “A Goddess in the Family” and it can be accessed only by this link on the website:


Please return next Tuesday for the new Newsletter of TextileFuture. Thank you!

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Sincerely yours,

The Editorial Team of Textile Future







Here is the start of the only item today:

Aug. 23, 2012

By guest author Aaron Gell from the Wall Street Journal Magazine.


ONE DAY IN 1918, 14-YEAR-OLD Diana Dalziel opened her diary and began to reflect on her long search for a feminine role model, a “perfect” girl she might choose to emulate. The pursuit hadn’t yielded any acceptable candidates. Thus, she would try a new tack: “I shall be that girl,” she declared.

Still, the future Diana Vreeland never quite gave up looking, and the fruits of her search would fill the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, where she served as the fashion editor in the 1940s and ’50s and, later, at Vogue, which she steered during the hothouse ’60s, in the process introducing American women to such stylistic innovations as the miniskirt, the bikini and the false eyelash. Perhaps more important, she gave the fashion world the high-low mix that still prevails today. A well-born product of Parisian society, she was famous for her exacting standards, directing her staff to iron her dollar bills and Kleenex, and polish the soles of her shoes with a rhino horn. But she was also enthralled by pop culture, palling around with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, helping to redefine our notions of beauty by featuring unconventional models like Penelope Tree and Twiggy and championing the denim blue jean. Along the way, she became an icon in her own right, almost certainly the most influential style arbiter of the 20th century.

“I am Diana, a goddess,” she wrote in a subsequent diary entry, and, “therefore, ought to be wonderful, pure, marvelous, as only I alone can make myself.”

That extraordinary self-invention is the subject of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a new documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the wife of the legendary editor’s grandson, Alexander Vreeland. (The film, which is being released in the U.S. this month, was codirected by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frederic Tcheng, the editing team behind 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor.) Featuring interviews with not only fashion insiders—like former Women’s Wear Daily editor John Fairchild and photographer Richard Avedon—but with Vreeland’s own sons, who remain openly conflicted about their mother, the film presents an intimate and layered portrait of a complex woman: tough and emotionally distant but bearing a dazzlingly outsize spirit and keen sense of fantasy.

“I didn’t just see her as a fashion person,” explains Lisa, sitting under a grape arbor beside the couple’s shingle-style cottage in Bridgehampton. “I really loved her philosophical side.”

Vreeland offered up her prescriptions for living in a monthly column called “Why Don’t You,” penned for Bazaar beginning in 1936. “Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?” she suggested, displaying a signature mix of frivolity and papal decree. “Why don’t you have your cigarettes stamped with a personal insignia?” S.J. Perelman lampooned the column in the New Yorker, but he’d missed the point: The more preposterous the suggestions, the more liberating the effect. Oh, why the heck not? the column demanded of women who were then beginning to see the possibilities being shaken loose by the modern era—what’s stopping you?

“She was trying to teach people lessons,” Lisa notes. “She was saying, ‘Go out there and push your life, discover things, try a different point of view.’ I felt like that was something I could benefit from.”

A few years ago, inspired by Vreeland’s mettle, Lisa—formerly a PR executive for Polo and the founder of the sportswear line Industria—boldly resolved to direct a film, her first, about Vreeland’s life. At the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, it was eagerly snapped up by Samuel Goldwyn in a late-night bidding war.

While Lisa never met Vreeland, Alexander, who oversaw marketing for Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani before becoming executor of his grandmother’s estate, happily shared his own memories and insights. “She was a wonderful grandmother, very supportive, encouraging, open-minded and interested,” Alexander says. He and his brother, Nicky, now the abbot of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, called her Nonina. “Of course, she was from a generation that wasn’t really changing diapers,” Alexander adds with a smile.

‘I am Diana, a goddess,’ she wrote in her diary, ‘and, therefore, ought to be wonderful, pure, marvelous, as only I alone can make myself.’

Instead, there were drives through the East End in Truman Capote’s Jaguar, which, he recalls, had a console between the front seats that always seemed to be stuffed with cash. “He’d open it up and say, ‘Go buy something!’ ” There were fashionable gifts—shearling coats, one year, for Alexander and his brother—”but she wasn’t sitting there art-directing our lives.” And there were Rolling Stones concerts and woozy after-parties with Mick and the boys.

Still, Alexander admits, “She was a much better grandmother than a mother.” In the film, his uncle Tim describes growing up wishing he had a different mother altogether—a “nice mom, like all my friends had.” Or, as his father, Frecky, puts it, “She always made it clear that she wanted us to be originals. ‘You’ve got to be either first in the class or the bottom of the class—don’t be in the middle.’ That’s a wretched piece of advice to give a schoolkid!”

“My father struggled with it,” Alexander says. “She was very busy with her own life.”

And she became even busier. Vreeland didn’t even begin her career until she was 30, and the period of her greatest influence occurred in her sixties, when most of us are dreaming of retirement. Her success, Alexander says, derived not only from her perceptiveness and creativity but from her extraordinary discipline. During her Vogue years, he remembers the family coming home late from dinner and watching as Nonina got right to work. “There were two light boxes on her dining-room table and briefcases with images she needed to look at,” he recalls. “She’d have her white gloves on and her big wax pencil, and she’d mark in red what she wanted to see blown up. She did not go to bed until every image had been looked at.”

Even with that work ethic, he says, she retained her sense of fun. “You don’t see that playfulness anymore in the fashion world,” he points out.

In 1971, Vreeland was fired from Vogue by Condé Nast’s legendary editorial director Alexander Liberman. Her tastes were deemed insufficiently commercial for the times, her shoots too extravagant. Grace Mirabella replaced her at the top of the masthead, and Vreeland fell into a depression. “It was very difficult for her,” Alexander remembers. “She had no money and a lifestyle that was still very expensive. She went into the hospital one or two times”—taking a room at Lenox Hill to “sort of rest a bit.” Frecky called her friend Jacqueline Onassis, who came for a visit. “After Jackie, everyone started coming,” Alexander recalls. “Suddenly it became a very social thing. People were dropping by all afternoon and evening.”

She made it clear that she wanted us to be originals. ‘You’ve got to be either first in the class or at the bottom of the class—don’t be in the middle.’

Vreeland’s friends rallied to her cause: After she landed a position as a consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum, they pitched in to cover her salary of $25,000 per year. Vreeland’s blockbuster exhibitions for the Met—which included shows devoted to Balenciaga, the Ballets Russes and the fashions of China, Russia and India—made for another indelible chapter in a remarkable career.

Through it all, her vivid imagination remained her greatest asset. Even in her mid-eighties, she maintained the ability to see past the everyday and invent a more glamorous, spellbinding reality. Alexander, who cared for his grandmother in her final years, often accompanied her to Lenox Hill to have her emphysema treated. On one particularly chaotic day, Vreeland wound up spending hours on a gurney in the hallway, waiting for a room, amid a harrowing scene: Drunks were handcuffed to adjacent beds, screams echoed through the corridor, bloodied patients were wheeled past.

None of it seemed to trouble Diana Vreeland. Nonina turned to her grandson and beckoned him close. Her narrow eyes were gleeful—she had something to say.

“Alexander, this is wonderful,” she whispered. “It’s like the streets of Naples!”








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