My obsession with Paris isn’t much of a secret. My fascination with the City of Lights is endless. Today, I will continue that conversation with a new series on the blog called, Bonjour, Paris. The first post explores one particular French woman with a certain je nai sai quo: Diana Vreeland.
Diana was born in Paris, France into a privileged family on September 29, 1903. She was the eldest daughter of American socialite mother, Emily Key Hoffman (1876-1928) and British stockbroker father, Frederick Young Dalziel (1868-1960). In 1914, her parents relocated to New York.
Fast forward to1922, she was featured twice in Vogue as a well-dressed socialite, and the next year, was presented to society as a debutante. Her cotillion ball was perfect timing, while vacationing in Saratoga, Diana met Thomas (Reed) Vreeland (1899-1966), who recently graduated from Yale.
March 1,1924, Diana Dalziel married Reed, a banker and international financier at St. Thomas’Church in New York. After their honeymoon, the Vreelands moved to Brewster, New York and raised their two sons there until 1929.
Thanks to Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, who noticed her wearing Chanel, Diana began her fashion legacy at the premier women’s fashion magazine, as its first fashion editor. Diana’s own mother routinely treated her with disdain because of her unassuming looks. Her mother used to refer to her as my little ugly duckling. Perhaps that treatment by her mother propelled her imagination into that of creating beauty and art beyond what the society ladies could fathom during the early years at Harper’s Bazaar.
During her 25-year tenure at Harper’s Bazaar, Diana forged ahead to inspire and define style as we know it today, by mixing high-end brands with the inexpensive. She discovered people and personalities, like Lauren Bacall, before she was an actress, she was a model. First appearing in 1943 on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar at the age of 17, Vreeland is credited with discovering the young beauty.
While at Harper’s Bazaar, the divine Mrs. V. penned an advice column called Why Don’t You? The quirky and ridiculous suggestions included the following:
Why Don’t You…?
…Wash your bonds child’s hair in dead champagne as they do in France?
…Turn you child into an Infanta for a fancy-dress party?
…Paint a map the world on all four walls of your boys’ nursery so they won’t grow up with a provincial point of view?
…Eat alphabet soup with a plastic fork while reading the Wall St. Journal?
The outlandish and widely popular column ran for almost 26 years.
She also advised then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s personal style during John F. Kennedy’s election and beyond. The Camelot duo was the first-ever presidential couple to appear in a fashion magazine thanks to Vreeland.
While at Vogue, she is responsible for the fame of Barbara Streisand’s nose.
After resigning from Harper’s Bazaar in 1963 over a salary dispute and being passed over for a promotion, the empress of fashion sashayed over to Vogue magazine to become their editor-in-chief. Diana continued to discover and develop talent during her tenure at Vogue with the mini skirt, model Twiggy, and Youthquaker model Edie Sedgwick. Vreeland also helped introduce Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress to the world in 1972.
In 1971, Vreeland was fired for extravagant spending, moving on to become a consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She is credited for organizing around 12 exhibitions during her career at the museum.
Her signature color was red, the ever present exaggerated use of rouge, red on her nails and her red apartment. “All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red,” Vreeland said. “I can never get the painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, ‘I want Rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple’ — they have no idea what I’m talking about.”
Diana died in 1989 of a heart attack at the age of 85 at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York. Her legacy continues with the help of her grandson, Alexander Vreeland who was entrusted with her estate. In 2010, Alexander discovered in his grandparents former home in Brewster, New York in the attic, well kept and preserved documentation from his grandmother’s years at Harper’s Bazaar. From the found materials, Alexander published the book, Diana Vreeland The Modern Woman, The Bazaar Years 1963-1962 with the help of Rizzoli International Publications.
To get a real sense of Diana’s persona, a must-see film on DV, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. It was released in 2012 by grandaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland. The fashion documentary is based on her life, on how she became a pioneer in the fashion industry and how her time spent with her husband in Europe made her into a style icon. The film refers to a movie, Who Are You Polly Maggoo? is said to be based on Vreeland’s life.
Finally, the family commissioned a collection of signature scents for the fashion editor that can be purchased from luxury retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. I am supporting her legacy. I purchased the book and the Diana Vreeland Smashing Brilliant perfume last December when I was in New York to see the Christmas windows.
Before major editors like Anna WIntour, Grace Coddington, and Grace Mirabella, there was Diana Vreeland. I hope you enjoyed the intimate look of her life and reign in fashion. For even more, check out her website: DianaVreeland.com. Please let me know your thoughts on DV below in the comments.
Have a fabulous week!