What’s not to like about a documentary as engrossing and enticing as “Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel,” an adoring biography about the famed fashion icon. Produced and co-directed by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the film paints a compelling portrait of the fashionista – from her childhood in Paris to her perch atop New York society – through an assemblage of archival footage, talking heads (Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, for example) and Vreeland’s own voice. Much of the film relies on an interview Vreeland did with George Plimpton that was recorded when the two collaborated on her memoir, “D.V.” As the maven of haute couture, Vreeland’s fashion observations and pronouncements altered the industry’s perceptions of what was acceptable – or not. She put blue jeans (“The most beautiful things since the gondola.”) and bikinis on the map. She launched the careers of Lauren Bacall, Angelica Huston and Twiggy. She even advised Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
As editor of Harper’s Bazaar and then Vogue, Vreeland influenced a generation of women and the fashion magazines they read. She was Anna Wintour before there was ever an Anna Wintour – just ask her former assistant, actress Ali MacGraw, who recounts Vreeland throwing jackets at her and calling her “rude.” Later, Vreeland took the curator’s job at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and turned it into the success it is today. She is the reason why the Met’s annual Costume Gala is called Fashion’s Oscars.
Outrageous and outlandish, Vreeland was never without rouged cheekbones or pithy sound bites such as: “I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity,” and “Fashion is not the same thing as style.”
She might have been slight in stature, but her presence was commanding. A tender side is also seen in the film, particularly in how it pertains to her adoration for her husband and her horrible relationship with her mother, although she tended to dodge questions about both.
Vreeland died in 1989, and although it took more than 20 years for her life story to make it to the screen, she was previously feted in 1993, when her narrative was turned into a one-woman play that became a New York hit – just like Vreeland herself.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL
(PG-13 for brief nude images.) Produced and co-directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. 3 stars out of 4.