Unless you’re a fashion aficionado, chances are you’ll have never heard of Diana Vreeland, the former editor of Vogue and irresistibly charismatic subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s (her grandson’s partner) doc Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011). Her tale is so fantastical you’d be forgiven for thinking the majority of her life was a work of fiction, but the lady (the odd exaggeration for effect aside) was very much the genuine article.
Born to an American socialite and an English stockbroker in 1903, Vreeland became a dancer in New York, ran a lingerie business in London selling underwear to the likes of Wallis Simpson and Mona Von Bismark, and accidentally became a writer for Harper Bazaar after its editor, Carmel Snow, admired her fashion sense and asked her if she’d like to write a column. From there-on in, Vreeland’s exquisite taste and eccentric fashion tips – such as “Why don’t you wash your blonde child’s hair in dead champagne, as they do in France” – made her a popular and influential industry figure. She discovered Lauren Bacall, gave style tips to Jackie Kennedy and in 1962, became the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine.
Even at the age of 58, Vreeland had her finger on the pulse, discovering such fashion icons as Edie Sedgwick, Twiggy and rubbing shoulders with Andy Warhol, The Beatles and seemingly every famous figure of the 1960s. In fact, so entwined is Vreeland’s story with the history of 20th century fashion and 60s pop culture, it’s a wonder why nobody has produced a documentary of her life before. Thankfully, Lisa Vreeland’s debut feature now cements Diana Vreeland’s status as a significant cultural icon.
The Eye Has to Travel also displays the director’s own artistic talents, and it will be interesting to see if she can reproduce the same passion for a subject that she doesn’t obviously idolise and have access to. The mixture of archive footage with contemporary interviews, photography and animation works exceptionally well and shows great craft, but as Lisa Vreeland worked with two co-directors, just how much of the film is her own handiwork is perhaps a little unclear.
Not that much of the above matters. Vreeland is such a compelling figure it would extremely difficult to make a bad documentary about her life and even if the idea of sitting through a fashion film fills you with dread, The Eye Has to Travel should seduce and charm even the most vehement of cynics.