Fine Ladies Series: Diana Vreeland

Elegance is innate.

It has nothing to do with being well dressed.

Elegance is refusal.

– Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland, née Dalziel, was never incredibly rich, but she was certainly high-society. And she was inarguably a force to be reckoned with.

Diana was born into such relatives and ancestors as George Washington, Francis Scott Key, and Pauline de Rothschild, but the personal friends she made for herself included Jackie Kennedy, Cole Porter, Gertrude Lawrence, and the Duchess of Winsor. Diana single-handedly revolutionized the world of fashion in ways no other woman ever has, before or after her. She personally oversaw more than a half-century of couture.

She served as fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar for 25 years, and then as editor-in-chief at Vogue for another 9. Then, at the age most women retire entirely, Diana took on a completely different career as a museum curator for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was 69 years old at the time.

What on earth makes Diana Vreeland so special? Simply put, she was not a traditionally pretty woman, and she still managed to be the embodiment of timeless elegance. She was famous for her incredibly classic style, dressed up with a single fantastic accessory – always the precisely perfect thing. You would never have caught Diana Vreeland with a ring on each finger, or a matching purse-belt-shoes combination. She combined, instead, simple good taste with a dash of contemporary updates.

Her clothing was the essence of chic – a simple dress, properly accessorized, one outstanding object that explained everything, not twenty expensive baubles that meant nothing.

Blair Schulman, essayist

A transcendentalist of sorts, she learned early on not to rely on other women to be her role model. Instead, she would rely on herself. As a young woman, she wrote in her diary, I shall be that girl.

Early on, she studied ballet, which lead her to appreciate fluid movement, which she became known for – Diana knew the precise right fabric necessary to achieve the exact flow she wanted, both when a woman moved and when she was standing still. I personally believe that the only woman who exercises that kind of precision today is Vera Wang.

Diana Vreeland did not simply rely on the fashion houses of Paris, as many editors in years past, but drew inspiration from India, Africa, the South Pacific, and the Middle East.

She unapologetically loved the color red – she’s famous for saying that she wanted her famous living room to be decorated “like a garden – but in hell.” Likewise, her office was also a bright red. “I can’t imagine being bored with red,” she’d say. Her assistants said that after she left Vogue, her old office went beige, her leopard rug was replaced with beige, and Vogue went beige along with them.

When her husband died, she grieved intensely, but never in public. During her first trip to Paris after her husband’s death, she found an evening dress that she liked. Then the vendeuse suggested black, she replied, “Certainly not. In red. I don’t want to remind anyone that I’m in mourning. That’s my business.”

She published her own biography, entitled simply D.V., in 1984, in which she writes:

I loathe nostalgia. One night at dinner in Santa Domingo at the Oscar de la Rentas’ Swifty Lazar, the literary agent, turned to me and said, “The problem with you, dollface,” – that’s what he always calls me – “is that your whole world is nostalgic.”

“Listen Swifty,” I said, “We all have our own ways of making a living, so shut up!”

Then I punched him in the nose. He was quite startled. He picked up a china dinner plate and put it under his jacket to protect his heart. So I took a punch at the china plate!

Nostalgia – imagine! I don’t believe in anything before penicillin.

Upon her death, Jackie Kennedy Onassis was the last woman to be logged into the call book by Diana’s nurses still at home.

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