Seduce and destroy

VreelandVivien Lash admires the way fashion deity Diana Vreeland gave them what they never knew they wanted

Who can fail to admire a woman who called her scarlet sitting-room a Garden in Hell?

Who when sacked at 70, instead of retiring into her closet with her shoes, said to the man who terminated her golden age as editor of Vogue,’I’ve known White Russians and Reds but you’re the first Yellow Russian’.

If Diana Vreeland is now sitting on a crimson cloud looking down on the fashion world, she would have been disappointed by the audience of not so thin bland bitches in boring LBDs who came to the world premier of the film about her life The Eye Has to Travel.

I could almost hear her say in her faux-European voice,’Lack of artifice is bloody boring.’

Hosted by Manolo Blahnik, one of those men who mysteriously always has more hair this year than he did last year; and Penelope Tree who looks less like an old oak and more like a dehydrated shrub which needs watering and not with more  champagne; Diana Vreeland was effortlessly the star of the show.

‘Water is God’s tranquilliser,’ she says to George Plimpton, apropos of nothing.  On Planet Lash, God’s trank is vodka, but swap the black hair dye for peroxide and DV could be my Aunt Irene the Slut, staying in bed ‘til noon, having at least four fittings for her silk underwear, whispering the same advice to me that DV gave to her sons, ‘If you can’t be top of the class make sure you are bottom.’  Heaven forbid the mediocrity in the middle.  That would be like shitting on Chanel’s grave.

DV couldn’t be beautiful like her sister so she embraced her strikingly ugly looks and compensated by marrying a beautiful man.  What did he see in her?  Everything.

DV had the sex appeal that confidence, exuberance and originality can buy.  She was a glamorous star who could be profound as well as trivial.  ‘A strong face comes not just from bone structure but inner thinking.’

The only other editor who came close to Vreeland for audacity and style was the seductively ugly Izzy Blow who swallowed weed killer when she got bored with the world and everyone in it.

But while Blow suffered from black depression, DV seduced or destroyed everything that crossed her red carpet with a gleeful throaty laugh.  Anna Wintour scares her staff but doesn’t seduce them.  She’s more bossy headmistress than exotic creative, wearing clothes which, if I was kind, I’d describe as mid-Atlantic Marks & Spencer.

Alex Shulman at English Vogue is more ready to wear than ready to scare. She knows fuck all about fashion and boasts about it. And who in their right mind allows a classic name like Alexandra to be diminished to Alex?

DV understood the genius of vulgarity before it was fashionable.  She was the first editor to reinvent models by accentuating rather than airbrushing their faults.

Barbra Streisand’s nose was celebrated, rather than pitied, on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.  A star was born.  Models like Twiggy were becoming celebrities, and Mrs Vreeland was the first to use celebrities as models.

Her former assistant Ali McGraw didn’t like Mrs Vreeland and the feeling was probably mutual. In an unintentionally comic moment in the film, McGraw tells her dog to Shut up and appears to kick it under the table. If looks could kill the pooch would be dead. Suddenly McGraw can act, or maybe she’s just playing herself.

Addicted to red, DV rouged even her ears; was better dressed than Wallis Simpson and twice as glami trani.

And who can fail to admire an octogenarian whose hair was blacker than Satan’s?

She said, ‘A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s what you do in the dress.’  Insert evil vodka smeared laugh.

DV loved nostalgia but was a modern at heart. But Paradise couldn’t last forever.  She was costing Conde Nast too much money.  Advertisers didn’t like her; odd when she was reinventing the future and wrote better copy than Don Draper. But, ‘Americans have no taste’.

The last word should go to her disciple Andre Leon Talley, possibly world’s most glamorous fat man, whose presence is missed in Eye has to Travel.

Talley, who read Anna Karenina to DV while she lounged on her deathbed, says ‘Some would say I live in the past.  But without the past, you cannot go toward the future.’

But no, the last word always goes to the shallow not stupid Mrs Vreeland herself, ‘Give them what they never knew they wanted.’

Read more episodes of Vivien Lash’s column Shallow Not Stupid.
Read more about Vivien Lash in Spying on Strange Men.