The Eye Has to Travel
And it does, in this delightful documentary about Diana Vreeland
The Eye Has to Travel is Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s fittingly stylish documentary on Diana Vreeland, her grandmother-in-law and the iconic editor of Harper’s Bazaar and then Vogue. The Times suggests the film does a good deal to distance Vreeland from the inexhaustible repository of one-liners for which she’s known. I’m not so sure that it does, but feel quite confident that no filmmaker should suppress the urge to include quotes like “The world without a leopard—who’d want to be here?” A list of similarly insane statements would probably be more enjoyable and instructive than any review. Vreeland was a woman who held the racehorse as the ultimate style icon and proclaimed blue jeans to be the most beautiful thing since the gondola.
More than set the record straight, the film, much like Mark Hampton’s play Full Gallop before it, is a reminder that such a record exists. Before she died, Vreeland sat for a series of interviews with George Plimpton that served as the foundation for her memoir, D.V., and it’s from acted bits of these conversations that we come to know the fashion empress in all her pithy glory.
One of Vreeland’s biggest pieces of advice for living a life as successful (i.e. interesting, stylish) as hers is to arrange to be born in Paris. After accomplishing as much, she moved to New York with her family and lasted three months at the Brearley School before enrolling at a Russian school where all she did was dance. “It was a wonderful education,” she says in the film. It hadn’t occurred to Vreeland to work at a magazine before Carmel Snow offered her a job at Bazaar. “I’m really basically quite lazy,” she says. And she lacked experience. “But you seem to know a lot about clothes,” Snow responded to her protests.
Thus began the career of a truly iconic, pizzazz-loving editor credited with popularizing everything from the bikini to Lauren Bacall. If Vreeland’s sons, whom she wanted at either the very top or absolute bottom of their classes, resented her taste for the extreme, the fashion industry felt differently. Old friends including Hubert de Givenchy, Richard Avedon, Angelica Huston, and even some recovered staffers, all appear in the film to praise her unique way of thinking.
At 70, Vreeland became a special consultant to the Costume Institute at the Met, where she pumped perfume through the air vents and promoted her revisionist sense of various historical periods. The Belle Époque, “the last era of absolute luxury,” was her favorite, though the film ends with a reference to the Spirit of St. Louis. Though records would suggest otherwise, Vreeland claimed to have seen Lindbergh fly over England. The final scene of The Eye Has to Travel, then, includes a line from Plimpton’s eulogy of Vreeland about how he imagined her in a green space, and an animated scene that recalls the grassy pastures of Teletubbies. It’s slightly off-putting, that is until Lindbergh’s plane flies by with Vreeland sitting pretty in the back seat. She grins at the camera before whirring out of sight. —Kate Guadagnino
Photo ©Estate of Horst P. Horst - Art + Commerce