Some people with big personalities (charisma!) don’t translate to still photographs, where they look oddly sedate, hushed still, almost cardboard. Diana Vreeland isn’t one of those people. Run a Google image search on her and you’ll see how, in the majority of photographs, she’s wildly gesticulating—casually tossing a hand into the out-of-the-frame middle-distance as though she were about to physically drag the future into view.
Which is precisely what she did, first at Harper’s Bazaar, then later at Vogue, and then still later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—frumpy institutions that she resurrected with injections of bold, almost defiant, whimsicality and joie de vivre.
What she did was expand the possibilities, not in practical terms but in aesthetics, of how people—particularly women—might imagine they could live. For that is, ultimately, the point of fashion: to be a sort of portal into another world, another life. She said as much in her 1984 memoir “D.V.” when she wrote: “Vogue always did stand for people’s lives. I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later.”
Throughout her youth, she’d looked for people after which to model herself. Finding no people, she decided she would just invent herself from scratch. A precocious aged 15, she wrote in her diary: “You know for years I am and always have been looking out for girls to idolize because they are things to look up to because they are perfect. Never have I discovered that girl or that woman. I shall be that girl.”
And so she would. And, as such, she would show American women how they too could be better versions of themselves. It sounds rather self-helpy now, but at a time when women were far less visible and there seemed to be far fewer options available to them, Vreeland’s statement that “There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself” sounded like gospel.
This was, in the end, a huge part of her appeal, as Vreeland herself acknowledged: “I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me—projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted.”
It’s tempting to say that she was the Anna Wintour of her day, except there was no Anna Wintour in her day. There was only Vreeland: the most powerful woman in her world. For the nearly 60 years that comprised her career, she was driven by a love of beauty and things and a degree of restlessness, an unrelenting longing for the new, the future, the next big thing; for—as she said in her memoir—“To be contented—that’s for the cows.”
For more on Diana Vreeland, check out Amanda MacKenzie Stuart’s amazeballs book “Empress of Fashion.”
She is fun, fabulous and fierce. She is chic, intelligent and in-the-know. But most of all, the Cheeky chick is the kind of woman who embraces, admires, respects, smiles at and opens her heart to other fabulous chicks. Now THAT'S Cheeky, darling!