And now, in the delicious new documentary about her (directed by her granddaughter-in-law, whom she never met), The Eye Has to Travel, we learn more about this very important fashion figure.
Vreeland was born in Paris in 1903 to a British father and an American socialite mother who was a descendant of George Washington's brother. Vreeland's family moved to the U.S. at the outbreak of WWII. In 1924, she married Thomas Reed Vreeland in a romance that would last both their lifetimes. However, London was calling, so they lived in a flat near Regent's Park for eight years. Whilst in London, Vreeland developed her eye for fashion by operating a lingerie business near Berkeley Square. She counted Wallis Simpson as one of her customers, and at the same time, hung out with photographer and designer Cecil Beaton, Noël Coward, and Cole Porter. Vreeland also went to Paris many times to visit the ateliers of Coco Chanel and other designers. However, due to her husband’s work, they found themselves moving back to New York in 1937.
Once back in New York, Vreeland's reputation and style caught the eye of the editor of Harper's Bazaar, who signed her up as a fashion columnist. Vreeland and her husband were fixtures on the New York social scene, and Vreeland was in the 'in' crowd of Manhattan socialites. Who better to write about fashion than her? The columns quickly became very popular.
Besides writing her column, Vreeland began to have a say in the overall look of Harper's Bazaar, including picking the models and the clothes for the magazine’s covers. It was during this time, the late 1930s and 1940s, that Harper's Bazaar became such an influential and important fashion magazine.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Vreeland's stamp of fashion approval matched the power of Anna Wintour today. However, in the early 1960s, Vreeland was passed over for the top job of Harpers Bazaar, so she decamped to Vogue to become Editor-in-Chief, a role she was born for.
It couldn't have been a better time for Vreeland to take the helm of Vogue, as the '60s were all about women's sexual freedom and individuality. Vogue was the mostly widely read women's magazine at that time, which gave Vreeland (and the magazine) the power to influence women and their couture. In 1967, Vreeland's husband died of cancer, and she would not marry again. Four years later, Vreeland was replaced as Editor of Vogue by her long-time assistant, Grace Mirabella. But Vreeland took it all in stride, realising it was time to pass the baton. However, this was not the end for Vreeland in the world of fashion.
In 1971, Vreeland was invited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to be a special consultant of the Costume Institute. Vreeland transformed this exhibition space from a dull, dreary part of the museum into one full of colour, flair, vibrancy, and all about fashion. Attendance records were broken, and again, Vreeland showed the world that she knew fashion, and fashion knew her.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel is in theatres now.