Born in Paris to an American socialite and a British gentleman, Diana Vreeland arrived into the world perhaps precisely when the world most needed her. After migrating to America where she would become a staple of New York society, she went on to work and define the two most important fashion publications in the continent: Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Her exciting life is captured in the brilliant Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a documentary that achieves what few films ever do nowadays: it leaves us craving for more.
Beginning with the establishing of a wonderful framing device in which we listen to conversations between Vreeland and her biographer George Plimpton, the film takes us on a look through Diana’s (pronounced Deeana) life. From her parties with Josephine Baker, to her anecdote with Charles Lindbergh, Diana seemed to live a life meant exclusively for others to envy. “The only good life is the one you want and make happen” she says, as she narrates events that made her one of the most famous women on Earth.
She takes credit for introducing Wallis Simpson to the king (and therefore felt guilty for his eventual abdication), elaborates on how she discovered Lauren Bacall and Cher (among many others) and does all of this without sounding like an obnoxious bragger. Diana it seems, just had a particular way of looking at life and not letting its trials and tribulations get the best of her. This is evoked wonderfully by the filmmakers who choose just the right moment to comment on the life she led outside the spotlights.
Filled with endlessly quotable moments, delicious archival footage and informative interviews with the likes of Anjelica Huston, Diane von Furstenberg and Marissa Berenson, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is an indispensable movie for anyone who loves fashion, but more than that, its inventive technical prowess and enchanting editing also make it a must see for people who love movies. Like Auntie Mame before her, Vreeland seems to be an endless fountain of strange wisdom. We learn that at the start of her career she wrote a weekly column called “Why Don’t You?” in which she encouraged her readers to take part in practices as decadent as those that led Marie Antoinette to the guillotine (it’s beautiful to see how one of her last big projects involved the French Queen’s style legacy).
The movie makes a point out of allowing Vreeland’s personality to shine through exactly as she was, leading us at moments to condemn her frivolity, but more often than not, lead us to bask in the joy of her words. Those who find themselves skeptical about the role of fashion in our world, might still get a kick out of listening to the passion with which she describes a pair of blue jeans.
Vreeland it seems, either had one of the sharpest tongues in the planet, or was a careless woman who had no hesitation when it came to insulting others. She reveals how she went to England to learn English and how she always thought the best thing about England was (its proximity to) Paris. Vreeland throws these sorts of bombs without ever thinking about others and you might end up adoring her out there style or truly despising her for being so outspoken.
In a way, she is the kind of movie character we want to see at the movies. She can be tough, very sensitive, always funny but poignant when she had to be. Perhaps one of the best compliments one can give to her is saying that a fictitious biopic of her would fail because only Diana Vreeland could play Diana Vreeland.
When Hubert de Givenchy calls you “the inventor of fashion” you know you’re onto something special and the film reminds us time and time again of why this unattractive, not very rich woman managed to have the entire world at the palm of her hand. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel has an unexpected effect on viewers who will most likely end up grinning for days after watching it. Like the woman it talks about, the movie seems convinced its mission is to deliver unbridled pleasure. Iconic model Verushka reveals how Vreeland used to say “don’t tell a story even if it’s true if it’s boring” and if this was the way Diana measured success, then her life and this movie are the epitome of it.
Entertainment One has released this movie in a fine DVD edition which includes a great transfer of the movie and features over 40 minutes of bonus interviews in which people wax poetic about Ms. Vreeland including Oscar de la Renta, Lauren Hutton and Ali McGraw, the only other extra in the disc is a theatrical trailer for the movie.