Tag Archives: Diana Vreeland

MESSAGES FROM THE TOP

Instead of holding meetings, the larger-than-life Vogue editrix Diana Vreeland communicated through memos, dictated from the privacy of her office (and sometimes her bathroom, where she had a phone installed). She sent them to editors, fashion designers, photographers, and anyone else involved in creating the magazine.

Her grandson, Alexander Vreeland, collected these missives, along with the images from Vogue that they helped engineer, in a coffee-table book, published by Rizzoli in 2013. On March 25, another of her grandsons, Nicholas Vreeland, and a great-grandson, Reed Vreeland, chatted about the book in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre. The event was part of The Museum at FIT’s Fashion Culture programming.

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Her missives are at turns funny, visionary, and insane. In one, she stressed the importance of seeing the ankle bones of Gypsies in editorial images. In another, she imagined a Vogue shoot taking place on the moon.

The letters were typed on many layers of onionskin. “If you got a clear memo, you were on top,” Nicholas remembered. “If you got a smudgy memo, you were probably the equivalent of an intern.”

She was relentless in getting her point across, often sending two or three memos about the importance of, say, the color gray.

“It’s very important to read them aloud,” Nicholas said. “You really get a sense of the way she used words.”

WORKING FOR DIANA VREELAND AND OTHER ADVENTURES

Elaine Grynkewich Drew, Fashion Design ’76, remembers getting her start in the costume business.

“When I was going to FIT, I would often spend hours at the Met, looking at paintings to inspire my clothing designs. It occurred to me that I could volunteer there, and I worked in garment restoration for a while. People started recommending me for restoration projects, and when it came to mount fashion exhibitions, the Costume Institute called me.

Drew also had her own limited edition label, Grynkewich New York. Some of her clothes were displayed in Henri Bendel’s window.

“Diana Vreeland was in charge of the exhibits. Everybody was scared to death of her. Once, I was putting a costume on a mannequin in a tight space when she sashayed through.  I said, ‘I hope I’m not in your way.’ She replied, ‘No one gets in our way.’ The royals always refer to themselves in the plural.

“The Centre Culturel du Marais in Paris called the Met in 1977. They were doing an exhibit about Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and they needed someone to display the costumes. Soon I was on a plane to Paris.

“The exhibit was full of all kinds of artifacts, not just costumes—publications of the time, photographs, posters, contracts, and letters. Just about anybody you’ve ever heard of from the early 20th century participated in the Ballets Russes: Picasso painted a curtain, de Chirico made a costume, and there was a bathing suit by Chanel. My job was to run around Paris, trying to find mannequins, as well as steam equipment to get the wrinkles out of the clothes. Their idea was, ‘This is great historic stuff, so all we have to do is put the name of who did it and everyone gets excited.’ I was trained to show the costumes off.

A costume by Giorgio de Chirico for an exhibition of the Ballets Russes.

“I didn’t speak French very well, and trying to understand the curator was very difficult. I realized how much more businesslike we tended to be in New York. Maybe a shop would be open, and maybe they wouldn’t.

“The job lasted from October to November of 1977. We finished around Thanksgiving. I didn’t think too much about the holiday, since I wasn’t in America. But three British fellows I was working with were determined to celebrate with me. They found a place that served Thanksgiving dinner, and we couldn’t get a table until 9:30. I’ll never forget what I saw when we arrived: every expat in Paris was there.”