Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

By C.W. Ellis Created: October 25, 2012 Last Updated: October 25, 2012
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Fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar Diana Vreeland (L) in the documentary about her life and work, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.” (Cristobal Zanartu/ Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar Diana Vreeland (L) in the documentary about her life and work, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.” (Cristobal Zanartu/ Samuel Goldwyn Films)

This stylish, inspiring, and thoroughly entertaining documentary “The Eye Has to Travel” captures the pizzazz, passion, and personality of the trailblazing fashion editor Diana Vreeland. 

Using her own words, those who knew her, and the images she created at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue (and later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), it tells the story of the woman who changed fashion and our culture forever.

As her friend Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis observed, “To say Diana Vreeland has dealt only with fashion trivializes what she has done. She has commented on the times in a wise and witty manner. She has lived a life.”

From the Belle Époque as a child in Paris, to the Roaring Twenties in New York, the Swinging Sixties in London, and the new Gilded Age of the 1980s, Vreeland swam in all the great cultural waves that swept the West in the 20th century. 

Vreeland’s singular voice (taken from conversations with George Plimpton) accompanies carefully researched archival footage as she drops some of her well-known witticisms, such as “The bikini is the biggest thing since the atom bomb.” She recounts selling nightgowns to Wallis Simpson: “My little lingerie shop brought down the throne.” Seeing Hitler at the Munich opera house, she says, “That mustache—it was just wrong!” And she explains her editorial philosophy, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they don’t know they want yet!” 

Vreeland’s life is rife with apparent paradoxes: the ugly-duckling little girl who came to define beauty, the empress of fashion who had no formal education, the child of the Belle Époque already in her 60s who promoted the youthquake of the 1960s to a wide audience. 

Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
 Cast: Interviews With: Diana Vreeland, Anna Sui, Manolo Blahnick, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Bob Colacello, David Bailey, Penelope Tree, Veruschka, Ali MacGraw, Anjelica Huston, Joel Schumacher, Frecky Vreeland, Tim Vreeland, Nicky Vreeland

Running Time: 86 minutes
Rating: PG-13

By the time Vreeland took over as editor-in-chief of Vogue in 1962, the youth revolution was taking off—and Vreeland was on board, celebrating new music, art, and thought in the pages of her style bible. Vreeland was first to run a portrait of then-little-known Mick Jagger in the U.S., saying, “I don’t care who he is, but he looks great and we’ll publish it.” 

She took her readers around the world for an adventure of new places, new looks, and new ideas. “The eye has to travel,” she said.

While some (wrongly) dismiss fashion as superficial, there was nothing superficial about what Diana Vreeland did. She acted on her conviction that vision has the power to transform, and encouraged everyone around her to do the same. 

Vreeland not only reinvented herself and scores of people she worked with over the decades; she almost singlehandedly reinvented ”fashion” as we know it today. Before Vreeland, fashion magazines ran tips on cooking pies. She brought glamour to fashion and made it OK for women to be ambitious, as one of her many admirers in the film says. 

Vreeland understood that fashion is a verb, not a noun. “A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress,” she declares. She gave her readers a vision of life. Fashion is what you’re doing, not what you’re wearing. 

She essentially saw the clothes and accessories as talismans having value and power that comes from the creative energy they’re charged with, the same energy that drives all life. This is a decidedly nonmaterialistic view, and it’s a lesson for us all—no matter what we wear.

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