No one who loves fashion can ignore the influence of the extraordinary Diana Vreeland, American fashion editor and style doyenne who reigned first at Harper’s Bazaar magazine in New York (for a quarter of a century) and then at US Vogue.
A stylish women who wore elegant, simple clothes made out of the best quality fabrics, DV always used something dramatic- blood red fingernails, a scattering of giant sized jewellery, a white rose worn tucked into her inky-black chignon or a Spanish matador hat, to catapult her look from ordinary to spectacular.
In 1936, Harper’s editor Carmel Snow felt the magazine needed a new type of fashion advisor and appointed the young DV to create Why Don’t You? which scored an immediate hit with its determinedly outrageous style dictations.
Why Don’t You? provided crisply edited advice in bullet point format (often the sentences of black and white text were punctuated with a vermillion dot at the start of each new piece of advice, DV was a great lover of the colour red although it had to be the perfect shade).
Her columns were full of such astute and original fashion comment –in sound-bite snippets- that many of the neatly edited observations have been adopted as fashion folk lore ( “Pink is the navy blue of India” being one of the more famous).
She was, above all, a fashion leader, offering a clear point of view on how she thought women could nurture their look for the better. She also made fashion work for all ages, being a role model herself for fabulous attire until she died in 1989.
Much of the advice she issued is relevant today, we love:
When you are buying black in any material, see that it is very, very black Fit your clothes easily. Only English and Americans have this mania for snappy tightness (Mrs Exeter said something very similar some 20 years later.
Travel with a little raspberry-coloured cashmere blanket to throw over yourself in hotels and trains. (Pashmina, anyone?)
Wear loose velvet gloves in wonderful colours, the right hand in violet velvet, the left in burgundy.
Such was her success that she was asked to advise on all areas, hence:
Use a gigantic shell instead of an ice bucket to chill your champagne. Paint every door in a completely white house the colour of a different flower- and thereby give every room a name.
Put all your dogs in bright yellow collars and leads, like all the dogs in Paris
Some were a touch eccentric:
Have a white monkey-fur bedcover mounted on yellow velvet Have an elk-hide trunk made for the back of your car? Hermes of Paris will make this
What we love about Ms Vreeland is that she achieved style nirvana while being happily married forever (to the ever patient Mr T Reed Vreeland) and bringing up two lovely sons. She was undoubtedly scary but also much loved, adored even, by her staff and friends. She was not beautiful but showed how style could conquer everything. As she said in an interview to Rolling Stone,
“You’ve got to have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it you’re nobody. I’m not talking about a lot of clothes”.
The Women’s Room thinks it might need its own D.V and Why Don’t You column….
meanwhile, you could do worse than read about the entertaining Ms Vreeland in her autobiography D.V