You don’t have to care deeply about fashion or beauty to enjoy it, although for those of us who do, it’s a visual feast. Some of the people interviewed for this documentary include photographers Richard Avedon and David Bailey, 60’s model Veruschka, and designers Manolo Blahnik and Carolina Hererra.
Perhaps most fascinating are the brief glimpses of Vreeland-as-wife or mother. One of her two sons says, to camera, he wished almost anyone else had been his mother. Vreeland’s own mother called her ugly, so so much for maternal warmth!
Vreeland was what the French call jolie-laide, with broad, flat cheekbones, a high forehead and a personal style she honed to a very sharp edge.
She was very much self-invented, and her boldness came from a sort of social confidence that comes, to many women, from being well-married and well-employed. One interviewee recalls her sending roses to Alaska for a shoot. What Diana wanted, Diana usually got.
I spent four hours the other day sitting at Saks, at the mother ship on Fifth Avenue, to sell copies of my book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which gave me a front-row seat to some of the nation’s wealthiest and best-dressed shoppers. It was interesting to watch how carefully some women put themselves together.
I grew up around two women who cared deeply about their appearance, their figures, their clothing and hair and jewelry. For my mother and stepmother, being beautiful, thin and well-dressed was terribly important, and they disdained women who didn’t share their values. My mother modeled for the Vancouver Sun as a newlywed in her early 20s and my step-mother had studied dance seriously.
Neither woman ever attended college, so their wit, smarts and style were essential to their success.
I still remember many of their clothes and jewelry, and very much wanted to have their female self-confidence. But I left my mother’s care at 14 and my stepmother was not someone eager to share her secrets. So I had to figure out this how-to-be-pretty thing on my own.
I was also bullied for two years in high school, called Doglin by a gang of boys, which severely dinged any desire to draw attention to my physical appearance. I was smart, verbally adept and confident, and that was what (and did) would carry me through the University of Toronto, filled with whip-smart men and women, in the late 1970s, a time when second-wave feminism was in full flush and women were a lot more concerned with being smart and listened to than decorative and appreciated for their physical beauty. Thank God!
But I’ve become much more interested in glamour as I age. After 40, it’s unwise to be quite so careless about your appearance — at least if you wish to be taken seriously by your professional peers, employers and competitors.
This is, clearly, influenced by region and industry. The sort of no-make-up asexual look favored in parts of New England, or the T-shirt and jeans schlubbiness of Silicon Valley, just looks weird and unsophisticated in places like Montreal and Paris, where defined personal style is (yay!) both expected and relished. I lived in both cities in my 20s and 30s, which changed forever my sense of style — great accessories rule!
Details do matter — a high-cut armhole and a properly hemmed trouser, a silk pocket square, a highly polished boot, freshly-trimmed hair all send a powerful message. I thrive on visual beauty and, (beyond the hopelessly selfish and vain and the dreary label-whores), simply really enjoy a man or woman who has taken the time and thought to present an attractive appearance.
When I lived in rural New Hampshire, a man once chastised me (!) for my emerald green ankle high boots for mud season because…they were not black. I moved to New York within a few months after that dreadfully boring bit of bossiness.
I love glamour, and if I were rich, would stock up on clothes by Dries van Noten, The Row, Etro and Donna Karan, my favored mix of simple minimalism and lush bohemianism. Still mourning a pair of ruby red knee-high suede boots I tossed 20 years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, do you arm yourself with elegance?
If not, why not?