Diana Vreeland had a profound impact on the development of American fashion during the post-World War II era. As the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and later as the editor of Vogue, Vreeland’s distinctive tastes and oversized personality created a cultural force of energy that has never been equaled. (Sorry, Anna Wintour, but you don’t even come close to the Vreeland volcano.)
This documentary uses a wealth of filmed and audiotaped interviews by Vreeland, along with recollections of her work by numerous collaborators and ex-employees, to celebrate Vreeland’s work. Strangely, the resulting film is anything but flattering.
For starters, the production goes out of its way to avoid specific details of Vreeland’s tumultuous life. Details of her rocky relationship with her wealthy parents are merely touched upon, while her marriage and family life receives a rushed mention. As for her introduction to publishing, Vreeland claims she received her first magazine job merely because the Harper’s Bazaar editor saw her dancing at a nightclub, admired her style and gave her a writing gig.
Vreeland was much too comfortable with celebrity name-dropping, and the film spends a surplus amount of time recalling anecdotes on Vreeland’s discovery of a young Lauren Bacall and her fashion advisory to a pre-White House Jacqueline Kennedy. Vreeland and her supporters also brag endlessly about her advocacy of models with offbeat looks (such as Twiggy or the young Lauren Hutton). Strangely, there is no explanation on why Vreeland avoided using African-American models in her magazines prior to the mid-1960s, despite her breathless insistence of a youthful passion for Harlem nightlife and Josephine Baker.
Ultimately, the celebrated tastemaker emerges as someone who was all style and no substance. Indeed, her first foray into publishing was a column entitled “Why Don’t You…” that offered such foolish advice to Depression-era readers as washing children’s hair in champagne. Whether spouting absurd pronouncements such as “Every girl in the world should have geisha training” or making bizarre claims that could easily be disproved (including the insistence that Charles Lindbergh flew over her home on his historic 1927 flight to France or that she was responsible for making a star out of Cher), Vreeland often comes across as a tiresome woman who was too full of herself.