Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is the first full-length biography of the legendary Vogue editor and self-mythologiser where words and facts take precedence over pictures and unverified if exciting anecdotes. How did Diana Vreeland go from a well to-do housewife to one of the most powerful people in fashion? And how did her remarkable mind and creative disregard for beauty over truth develop? This book, by biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, attempts to answer those questions.
Vreeland, ‘the High Druidess of fashion, the Supreme Pontiff, Perpetual Curate and Archpresbyter of elegance, the Vicaress of style’ did not start out in life commanding the religious reverence that the previous quote implies, but instead had a difficult childhood, forever in the shadow of a beautiful younger sister and treated badly by a capricious, adventurous mother who (as these things often go no matter how much pink hair dye we put on) Diana resembled more in personality and outlook the older she became.
This book counters the obvious beautiful lies that Diana told as she invented herself. Diana was born in Paris, but did not grow up there as she had claimed. However, a more outlandish tale, that of Buffalo Bill teaching Diana and her sister to ride horses, may actually be true. Mackenzie Stuart assesses Diana’s claims on its individual merits, not treating each one with scepticism but with a calm researcher’s eye.
This book is heavy on the fascinating details of Diana’s career, especially on how she came to win her jobs as editor of American Vogue and at the Costume Institute. Grace Mirabella, Diana’s successor at Vogue, appears as a conflicted figure in the text but there is still a little meat missing from the controversial and quite sad story of how Diana came to fall from Grace at Vogue.
Diana’s personal life, especially that with her two sons, is not examined in great depth, though her relationship with husband Reed (who appears in the book as a bit of a well-dressed enigma) is given more space on paper. The two sons do not appear as voices in the book – it’s a shame because, as the documentary The Eye Has to Travel shows, both have a great deal of interesting and often painful things to say about their mother.
The book is well-written, accessible, entertaining and nicely-paced. With a life as unsure and clouded with half-truths as Diana Vreeland’s, the temptation to insert your own take on her life must be immense. However, this biography does justice to the great lady’s legacy.
Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is published by Thames and Hudson and is out in hardback now.