Diana Vreeland, a true force of nature and a one-of-a-kind visionary, was born on September 29, 1903, in the heart of Paris, France. Her remarkable life and legacy continue to inspire, even after her passing in 1989 at the youthful age of 85.
From her beginnings in Paris to her transformative career in the New York fashion scene, Vreeland’s life and career are a testament to her unstoppable personality.
With barely an education to speak of, Vreeland boldly led Harpers Bazaar for 25 years as editor-in-chief; this was followed by nine years at American Vogue, where she revolutionised the fashion world. And then, in 1973, until shortly before her death, 16 years later, she energised the halls of The Costume Institute in The Metropolitan Museum of Art or, as it’s called today, The Met.
This is the story of a woman whose charisma, chutzpah, and pizzazz not only defied the societal norms for a woman of her time but danced right over them.
How does one become Diana Vreeland?
Vreeland once famously said, on being asked by her biographer: How does one become Diana Vreeland? “The first thing to do is arrange to be born in Paris; after that, everything follows quite naturally”.
And everything did follow, quite naturally, with a sense of fun, wit, style and a joy for living the spilt over into all she did.
Never once did she display a moment of doubt; even in the face of perceived shortcomings, she entered the world with grit and determination, and in the game of life, Vreeland was triumphant!
For Vreeland, growing up in a privileged and affluent family exposed her to high society and the world of luxury and style. However, attributing Vreeland’s success solely to her privileged background would belie the unique brilliance and charisma of the woman that she was.
Vreeland had a deep and genuine love for fashion. Her style was as distinctive and daring as her larger-than-life personality and attracted the attention of those in the fashion circles of the day. She was known for her bold clothing choices, love of exotic accessories, and uncanny vision for how things could be.
Vreeland stumbled into her career with Harpers Bazaar. Still, nothing about this extraordinary, fantastical woman resembles a tumble, more of an elegant dance inspired by providence and opportunity.
After gaining the attention of the then-editor of Bazaar, Carmel Snow, her career in fashion was birthed into the famously titled column “Why Don’t You”, where her witty and unconventional writing style garnered attention and perhaps a little notoriety as she encouraged readers to embrace unusual fashion and lifestyle choices setting her apart from other journalists.
In 1937, she became editor-in-chief, allowing her to experiment with avant-garde fashion concepts. Her penchant for showcasing non-traditional beauty and promoting eclectic styles made her a trailblazer in the industry.
“I have a terrible time remembering exactly when my birthday is. Age is totally boring…”
In 1962, Diana Vreeland continued her fearless trailblazing as the editor-in-chief at American Vogue, a position she held for nearly a decade. During this time, she breathed new life into the magazine and brought a fresh and imaginative perspective to fashion photography and editorial content.
Collaborating with fashion photography legends like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, they produced some of the most iconic images of the 20th century, characterised by movement and drama.
Her vision challenged and transformed the aesthetic. Her influence remains celebrated and continues to shape fashion today.
For Vreeland, these were not just glossy fashion magazines but expressive art forms.
The Met Years
But then, in 1973, at age 70, showing no signs of slowing down, Vreeland was abruptly fired from American Vogue.
For the ordinarily confident Vreeland, leaving Vogue could have broken her; the thought of a conventional life was simply unbearable.
She famously lamented, “Well, I was only 70. What was I supposed to do? Retire?”
Then the call came! She was back in business!
In the spring of 1973, Diana embarked on her next adventure, joining The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Special Consultant to The Costume Institute, a role specially created for her and funded by friends and beneficiaries of the New York fashion and art scene.
She wasted no time and swiftly transformed the once-slumbering museum, immediately illuminating it with a vibrant fashion showcase with her inaugural exhibition, ‘The World of Balenciaga.’
Costumes that had long been tucked away in antiquarian obscurity now graced mannequins and captured the imagination of the public. For Vreeland, this wasn’t just another magazine spread; it was a three-dimensional experience!
Her signature flair and innate sense of style made it appear effortless, almost mystical. Yet, behind the scenes of her accomplishments lay diligence, hard work, and unwavering persistence.
Diana Vreeland’s life and career are a testament to the power of confidence, determination, and an audacious spirit. A woman who could have been crippled by self-doubt chose to dance gleefully over its grave!
Her birthday is a celebration of her indomitable spirit and a legacy that continues to inspire.
If self-doubt, other people’s opinions, societal norms or ageism ever shake your confidence, then take a moment and peer into the glamorous life of Diana Vreeland; it may be just what you need.
See you next time,