A documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, and Frédéric Tcheng. Unrated. Opens Friday, January 25, at the Vancity Theatre
Born in 1906 Paris to an American beauty (so American, she was related to George Washington) and a British aristocrat, Diana Vreeland was her mother’s designated ugly duckling. She spent the rest of her life proving mama wrong.
Vreeland’s eventual tenures as tastemaker-in-chief at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines is well known. But this energetic documentary, made by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (and two others), a descendant through marriage with access to intimate material, insists that the infinitely quotable diva remains the most towering fashion leader of the past century, and probably this one.
Vogue successor Anna Wintour subsumed her image in diluted form, and the many caricatures of them both—in films like Funny Face and The Devil Wears Prada, not to mention good ol’ Cruella De Vil—pale against the original.
Vreeland, a woman who frequently began sentences with such eruptive exclamations as “Good God, no!” and “That’s simply divine!”, inspired camp culture at large with her quasi-religious quest for “pizzazz”—a glittering shield against boredom and the emotional demands of ordinary life. Applying a jazz-age flapper’s childhood memory of the belle époque to the ’60s Youthquake (her term), she edited in reverse, magnifying her own flaws to inarguable fabulousness and making virtues of extremes in others: Mick Jagger’s thick lips, Marisa Berenson’s giraffelike neck, and the holy gap between Lauren Hutton’s teeth.
A lifelong friend to Coco Chanel, Cecil Beaton, and Jackie Kennedy, she survived everyone and is remembered here by admiring adversaries like David Bailey, Ali MacGraw, Calvin Klein, and Anjelica Huston. The best words always come from Vreeland, still, via copious TV interviews plus a late autobiography dictated to George Plimpton (and read by actors, sadly). At one point, a survivor challenges Vreeland’s sepia recollection of seeing Charles Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic. Sure, she was yoking herself to a legend at the expense of the literal truth. But the important question is, why isn’t she more famous than Lindbergh?