Friday, 22 January 2010

A Legend Recalled

I look back at Diana Vreeland with fondness and awe. After her dismissal from her role as Editor in Chief of US Vogue I met her several times in New York, and once very memorably in Italy, when I was developing a book about Balenciaga, a shared passion. The book never happened, but it gave me the opportunity to visit her in her amazing, tiny, all-red apartment on Park Avenue, full of pattern, photographs and drawings, where we took tea and talked fashion. I was young, she was old. I was nervous – always, despite her kindness – she was grand, but encouraging and already a legend in her own time.

She talked passionately and often very aggressively about fashion. I sat at her feet and learned. She was especially outspoken about New York fashion, which she felt had grown from what she once referred to as 'the slime of Seventh Avenue'. I loved her because her attitudes were so young and irreverent, and she had a marvellous sense of humour (something conspicuously lacking in today's grandes dames of high fashion) and a great sense of irony – completely lost in today's fashion world so dominated by money. Diana Vreeland believed in quality, dreams and integrity. She didn't give a thought to money. Which would, of course, make her unemployable in fashion today.

She would be appalled at the philosophy behind most magazines now and the way editors and publishers have since her day contrived to tie their own hands so effectively.

We were once talking about advertising. Diana was not terribly interested in it and preferred to concentrate on areas she felt had more scope for imagination and creativity.
'Did you have much to do with the advertising manager when you were
editing Vogue?' I asked.
The eyes became as big as saucers. 'Certainly not. Wouldn't recognise him if I saw him. I didn't even know his name!'
'But you must have passed in the corridor or met in the elevator?'
A look part horror, part pity and part bewilderment.
'Advertising personnel using the editorial elevator? NEVER!'

Other voices, other rooms....


  1. Have just bought her book "DV" which I'm hoping to start this weekend after my current book! Is it true that the character of Maggie Prescott in Funny Face is based on Ms Vreeland?

  2. Dear Mr. McDowell:

    Your post today hits a nerve. Vreeland and Balenciaga in the same post is almost too much to bare given the state of fashion today. I worship each but only from afar and via books and images - a pale substitute to be sure. I must have been born in the wrong time.

    As much as I try, I can't really come up with anyone comparable today except perhaps Alaia. Of course, Alaia trained and perfected his skill at a time when a garment's structure actually mattered and designers therefore had to be skilled in any number of techniques rarely seen today. I don't think it's the lack of talent per se because there are a number of fledgling designers that inspire me (Roland Mouret, Erdem, David Szeto). Unfortunately for them (and for us), the market forces in place simply do not foster the kind of environment necessary to nurture that talent and push it to a Balenciaga-esque level. I find this all very sad.

    I hate to end a dreary, rainy day on a sad thought but so be it.


    The Luxe Chronicles

  3. Dear Mr McDowell,

    This post did make me giggle. Vreeland was such a character.

    I couldn't agree more with Helene ...I have probably been born in the worng time too...

    Silent Storyteller

  4. Love this story ... my, how things have changed in magland!

  5. If only ad teams had a separate elevator today..... And hooray for your Fashion Moments!

  6. 'Advertising personnel using the editorial elevator? NEVER!'
    How wonderfully Gosford Park.