When Jacqueline Kennedy wanted advice on what to wear for Inauguration Day, she wrote to Diana Vreeland. When Wallis Simpson needed lingerie for her rendezvous with King Edward VIII, she turned to the same woman.
“I wasn’t just a fashion editor,” Vreeland famously said with her trademark immodesty. “I was the one and only fashion editor.”
Her imprint on 20th-century style is the subject of the documentary “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.” Due in theaters on Sept. 21, it was directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who married Vreeland’s grandson.
The Vogue editor in chief in the 1960s made bikinis mainstream and Barbra Streisand’s nose beautiful. She put the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the map.
The film charts Vreeland’s life from her time as an ugly duckling in Belle Epoque Paris to her role at the center of New York fashion, where she united society swans, fringe artists and beatniks. It’s based on recorded conversations between Vreeland and George Plimpton, whom she commissioned to write her memoir, “D.V.,” in the early 1980s.
The conversations took place in her red living room, which she wanted to remind visitors of “a garden in hell.” Film director Joel Schumacher says in the documentary that she understood “the genius of vulgarity.”
One of the film’s more interesting vignettes recounts her run-in with Adolf Hitler, whose mustache she thought was ridiculously funny.
Of her friendship with Coco Chanel, Vreeland smugly tells Plimpton, “We were quite close, you know.”
Vreeland called the bikini “the biggest thing since the atom bomb,” and declared blue jeans the best invention since the gondola. She was fond of wearing rouge on her ears, and suggested washing a child’s hair in champagne to keep it blond.
The documentary offers comments from the late Richard Avedon, Angelica Huston, Ali MacGraw and Lauren Hutton, as well as conversations with designers Calvin Klein, Hubert de Givenchy, Anna Sui and Diane von Furstenberg.
Vreeland inspired the character Maggie Prescott, the over-the-top editor in the 1957 classic “Funny Face.”
Viewers of the documentary will have “The Devil Wears Prada” deja vu listening to MacGraw, who once worked as Vreeland’s assistant. The actress tells how Vreeland would bark orders upon entering a room and throw her coat at her.
Vogue’s current editor and the model for that devil, the equally formidable Anna Wintour, is conspicuously absent from the documentary.
Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine, Jeremy Gerard on theater.