The life of this ambitious, exacting fashion icon is portrayed visually through a multitude of media and features contributions from the designers, photographers and models whose careers were made by the couture queen, as well as recreated interviews with Diana herself.
'These people invented themselves and I was there to help them along," so said fashion magazine diva Diana Vreeland in just one of her non-stop series of delectable bon mots in this documentary about her life. Born in 1906 in a childhood which encompassed and embodied the 20th century’s artistic pivot from Paris to New York, Diana Vreeland single-handedly – she’d have you believe – created the fashion world through her adventures at Harpers’ Bazaar and Vogue with no qualifications other than always being in the right place at the right time. When that ended ('I was only 70. What was I going to do? Retire?"), Vreeland crowned and legitimised the whole shebang with an appointment as the Costume Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.
jammed packed with images from magazines, photoshoots and newsreels of a life well lived
It’s a helluva life to fit into 86 minutes (one minute per year of her life). This pleasurable documentary is jammed packed with images from magazines, photoshoots and newsreels of a life well lived, but also lots of historical footage of the life Vreeland imagined she had too. What makes her such an influential and intriguing figure is the way that these facts and fantasies congealed into an astounding journey where everyone from Lauren Bacall to Mick Jagger and a million, mostly forgotten, models, paid homage to her publicity power and glamorous glory.
Though directed and constructed by Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the film is given structure by tapes of journalist and sometime Nick Carraway impersonator to America’s arts elite, George Plimpton, who interviewed Vreeland for a proposed biography. As the brief samplings here indicate, Plimpton knew (he himself died in 2003) when to probe and when to retreat, but he extracts enough evasions to indicate that underneath Vreeland’s driven pursuit of beauty rather than truth, there was a woman who was deeply pained.
While the archival clips play of early 20th century Paris and Josephine Baker dancing in
nightclubs, Plimpton tries to dig deeper, but Vreeland ostentatiously swats such reflections away: 'Oh, I don’t think we want to go there George." The film’s director herself includes other family members, particular Vreeland’s grown sons (now in their seventies themselves), who confirm that while they did want to go that emotional 'there", the documentary and Vreeland’s life are too fabulously distracting to stay focussed on them for long. The express train of celebrities, of art, of glamour and that empty extravagance of fashion glitters so brightly and is just so endlessly dazzling, that it is indeed too hypnotic to ignore. In the end, we only see what Diana Vreeland wanted us to see.
And beastly as she no doubt often was – Vreeland gave the world plenty to appreciate in her wake. It’s all delivered without a hitch until a tacky 60-second animation at the film’s end. Since the film already had a beautiful finish inspired by Plimpton’s eulogy at Vreeland’s funeral, it’s a clumsy misstep. But you’ve been warned. By the time Plimpton stops speaking, you’ve seen the film. Then it’s time to grab your bag and (matching) shoes and run!