‘Why don't you… wash your blond child's hair in dead champagne, as they do in France?’ Diana Vreeland had a unique imagination and dry wit, as one can intimate from the wisdom she’d extoll in her advice column for Harper’s Bazaar, entitled ‘Why Don’t You’.
The legendary fashion editor championed eccentricity and maximalism at all times, from the larger-than-life shoots she’d commission for Vogue (the cost of which led to her departure from the magazine) to her favourite snack – peanut butter served on K’ang Hsi porcelain and consumed with a silver spoon. Here, we distil our favourite Vreeland bon mots into a guide for life (and style).
‘A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste – it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.’
Vreeland was a self-proclaimed maximalist, and this very much extended to her living quarters in New York. Her Park Avenue apartment, photographed by Architectural Digest in 1975, was awash with vivid colour, every inch of it ornamented. Her brief for interior designer Billy Baldwin when creating her living room? ‘Like a garden, but a garden in hell.’ It was entirely red, from the carpets and sofas to the cushions and flowers.
Horst P. Horst, Diana Vreeland apartment, New York, 1979
On staying inspired…
‘There’s only one thing in life, and that’s the continual renewal of inspiration.’
A magpie for pop culture, Vreeland revitalised British Vogue when she joined as editor in 1962. She had a knack for identifying – and then immortalising – the zeitgeist, coining the term ‘youthquake’ in 1965. She turned Vogue from stuffy society publication to ‘60s pop bible, splashing its pages and cover with doe-eyed models and pouty music artists including Edie Sedgwick, Mick Jagger, Cher and Penelope Tree.
Fashion photographer Richard Avedon, and then fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar, Mrs Diana Vreeland, supervise a fashion shoot of jewellery at Tiffany's. (Photo by Sherman/Getty Images)
‘Prohibition. Insane idea. Try to keep me from taking a swallow of this tea and I’ll drink the whole pot.’
Unsurprisingly, austerity wasn’t Vreeland’s strong suit. In 1971, she was fired from Vogue – reportedly due to her extravagant and costly editorial shoots. She once sent model Veruschka to Japan and insisted she be photographed with a sumo wrestler over 6ft tall.
Veruschka photographed by Richard Avedon and styled by Polly Mellen,
On (not) acting your age...
‘I have a terrible time remembering exactly when my birthday is. Age is totally boring…’
Vreeland didn’t spend her evenings at home, frequenting New York’s Studio 54 and Andy Warhol’s The Factory well into her seventies. In one photo she is pictured deep in conversation with Bianca Jagger and Warhol, in another with her arm around writer Bob Colacello, wearing a polka dot dress coat and long string of beads. ‘I wanted to get where the action was,’ she said.
On creative licence…
‘I’m terrible on facts. But I always have an idea. If you have an idea, you’re well ahead.’
After she was fired from Vogue, Vreeland became the director of the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, revitalising not only the then-sleepy institution, but also the way fashion was exhibited. Vreeland’s exhibitions were a commercial success, though not always historically accurate.
In Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Vreeland’s former assistant Harold Koda (who would later go on to be director of the Costume Institute himself), recalls being asked to make an 18th century wig. When he presented a wig with historically accurate proportions, Vreeland was displeased. He went back to the drawing board and extended the hairdo to the ceiling. ‘Now she can go to the guillotine!’ Vreeland announced.
With her eccentric sense of style and irreverent approach to life, Vreeland is a woman after our own Mondo hearts, inspiring us to think a little bigger, RSVP to that party invitation, and paint an entire room (or at least one picture frame) scarlet red.