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DVD Review: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

October 28, 2012

FashionFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


As Candid’s film editor, I don’t usually get the chance to review new releases and instead, look back at some of my favourite movies and include them in my Editor Recommends section. However as soon as I was sent a copy of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, I was taken over by an intense hunger that could only be ebbed by sticking it in the DVD player, with my eyes glued to the screen and fingers plastered to my laptop’s keyboard. You see, I am a massive lover of fashion and jump at the chance to watch documentaries on any key figure in the industry. Made up of interviews, archive footage, animation and lots of satire, this documentary, directed by Vreeland’s Granddaughter in-law, takes a look at a remarkable career which spanned over forty years and saw this woman take the helm as fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Editor in Chief of American Vogue.

The documentary starts in 1903 when Diana Dalziel (pronounced Dee-anna) expertly arranged to be born in Paris. Her parents were wealthy socialites from the moment they moved to New York at the outbreak of World War 1. From a very early age, Diana’s relationship with her mother was a disjointed one as she would often refer to her daughter as the ‘ugly one’ in relation to her younger sister. In 1924 she married Thomas Reed Vreeland and had two sons, born in 1925 and 1927.  As the 1930’s rolled around, Vreeland started working for Harper’s Bazaar as a columnist before becoming Fashion Editor. Her column, ‘Why Don’t You?’ remained until her resignation in 1962. Vreeland was supremely successful working for Harper’s, discovering such talents as actress Lauren Bacall in the 1940’s and placing her on the front cover, as well she offered style advice to First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
In 1962, Vreeland became Editor in Chief of American Vogue, transforming it into the cutting edge fashion bible it is today. She recognised that giving readers unattainability was key and that people shouldn’t be given what they want, rather what they don’t know they want. Her reputation as a creative tour de force followed her from Harper’s, yet many claimed her difficult to work with. Vreeland has stated that the 1960’s were a hugely exciting time as women’s uniqueness was being celebrated, evidenced by her putting such figures as Barbara Streisand in the magazine and placing emphasis on her ‘Nefertiti-esque’ nose.
At the age of seventy, Vreeland was sacked from Vogue and she became consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, showcasing designers and fashion through history, where she was once again a huge success.

The Eye Has to Travel illustrates just how powerful Vreeland was. There’s the obvious: Editor in Chief of Vogue long before Anna Wintour etc etc but the documentary delves further by showing us how instrumental she was in grooming superstars of the past and present, from Lauren Bacall to Cher. Vreeland was also behind some of the biggest movements of the last 100 years, including women  wearing bikinis. She had enormous vision that was way ahead of its time, she saw the beauty and irony in what many saw as vulgar and she wholly celebrated ‘oddities’. There is simply no getting away from her iconic role in the history of fashion. However, as interviews show, particularly those done by her children, she wasn’t a particularly easy person to get along with. Photographer David Bailey, albeit jovially also speaks of his frustration at working with her in the 1960’s. There are others such as Angelica Houston and designers Diane von Furstenburg and Hubert de Givenchy that speak very highly of her achievements. Interviews with the woman herself before her death in 1989 show a disconnected figure entirely wrapped up in the world she has created for herself, it is also no secret that she had an occasional tendency to fragment the truth.
It’s difficult not to admire Diana Vreeland because for all her faults, documented in The Eye Has to Travel she was an incredibly smart, passionate and insightful individual. Plus, you’ve got to love a bit of eccentricity right?

Samuel Sims

The Eye Has to Travel is released on DVD Monday 29th October in the UK