"Why don't you rinse your blond child's hair in dead champagne to keep its gold, as they do in France?" "Why don't you go serenely out in the snow in a court jester's hood of cherry red cotton velvet?" "Why don't you look up the new deep mauvish-pink rose which came out in Paris at the time of the devaluation, optimistically called 'Better Times'?"
These are but a few of the colorful suggestions legendary fashion maven Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) made in her '30s-era Harper's Bazaar column "Why Don't You ...?" Whimsical, witty, and outlandish, Vreeland's musings announced the arrival of a new voice and attitude that dared Depression-weary women to step fashionably out of the box. Without having to be asked, "Why don't you make a film about the grandmother-in-law you never met?" Lisa Immordino Vreeland did just that.
Nodding to a Vreeland quote that begins, "Does anyone read a picture book from the beginning?" Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel pieces the style icon's fascinating life and career together via snippets of old television interviews, archival footage, and present-day interviews with a collection of more than 60 admirers, friends, and collaborators, including Anjelica Huston, Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, and Ali MacGraw. The result is an easily absorbed portrait of Vreeland that springs to life in the breathtaking fashion spreads she created as fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar (1936-1962) and editor-in-chief of Vogue (1963-1971). Vreeland invigorated both magazines with fantasy and originality, celebrating nontraditional beauties (think Cher, Barbra Streisand, and Penelope Tree) and breaking big news (including the arrival of Mick Jagger, blue jeans, and bikinis) in the process.
The glue that holds the first-time director/producer's documentary collage together comes in the form of stage actors Annette Miller and Jonathan Epstein reading from the transcripts of D.V., Vreeland's memoir published in 1984 as told to George Plimpton. While her exaggerated flourishes may throw some viewers for a loop after hearing the empress of fashion's actual speaking voice, Miller — who served as Mary Elizabeth Wilson's understudy in Full Gallop, a biographical one-woman play about Vreeland's life — emerges as a vital piece of the 86-minute puzzle by filling in the gaps of a story infused with "faction" (a hybrid of fact and fiction) and doing it with pizzazz, a word many credit Vreeland with inventing.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Dir. Lisa Immordinio Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Frederic Tcheng; feat. Diana Vreeland. (PG-13)