Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

I'm a sucker for stories of society greats. I got through the quite enormous Mitford sister biography in a couple of days and any film/ book which has the words "heiress"or "debutante" in the description is most likely on my bookshelf. Quite often, the women in these stories are better known for their scandalous love lives, raucous partying and stupendous shopping activities than their career achievements, which are sometimes quite spectacular in their own right. Invariably, the best stories come from those born towards the beginning of the last century, whose lives span the two world wars. Common sense might dictate that this would have been an utterly miserable and un-festive time. Obviously, I'm not stupid/ in-the-clouds enough not to know that for the vast majority who lived through that time of poverty, death and uncertainty it really was unimaginably awful.

From Diana Vreeland Allure Baron de Meyer , 1925 on our Fashion Editor at large tumblr
But there is something magical about that mid-century time which seems to show a rather heroic coping mechanism- my Grandma tells me stories about playing tea parties in the rubble of houses floored by bombings in Cardiff or waiting for Hitler at the entrance to their air raid shelter with her toy broom, ready to attack the Fuhrer should he find his way to their street in Cardiff. But it's the upper classes- the lucky few who we hear most about, I know- who make me see this time with rose, or should I say sepia, tinted glasses. Like in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, one of my writing heroines Justine Picardie, the newly appointed editor of Harper's Bazaar gave an anecdote-rich account of the life of Diana Vreeland, a society character, yes, but also legendary fashion editor of US Harper's Bazaar and American Vogue. Vreeland was definitely not ignorant to the perils of the onset of World War II but her personal situation does make you smile, in a "problems you wish you had"kind of way:

"With the outbreak of war in 1939 came a change of tone, although Vreeland proved reluctant to leave Paris - where she had been ordering couture - until the last moment, when a friend insisted that she boarded what was to be the last passenger ship to sail before battle commenced. 'I'll never forget that afternoon,' she later recalled, 'coming down the rue Cambon - my last afternoon in Paris for five years. I'd just had my last fitting at Chanel. I don't think I could have made it to the end of the block, I was so depressed - leaving Chanel, leaving Europe, leaving the world of… of my world.' "

Vreeland's Harper's Bazaars at the Venice exhibition this summer (image from
Obviously, Vreeland didn't just fanny about in her couture for the rest of her life, but put her point of view to good use, becoming one of the most important image makers of the twentieth century. Her work is exquisite and inspiring. Now, her granddaughter in law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, has embarked on a trio of projects to reacquaint a new generation with Vreeland's work. The book has been out for some time and an exhibition has been taking place in Venice this Summer. Now the final instalment coms in the shape of a documentary film Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel which speaks to people who knew Vreeland and shows footage of the editor while charting her quite extraordinary career. In a typically fabulous moment which might be from a modern fairytale, which sums up why I like stories such as hers, that trajectory began when the then- editor of Harper's Bazaar Carmel Snow spotted Diana Vreeland dancing with her husband at a New York ball. No interning for her then. 

The film is out on September 21st, so today is a kind of heads up to make sure you put that date in your diary and hunt out your nearest showings which I suspect will be on sporadic dates at the end of this month and the beginning of October. Check out The Curzon for further updates and showings if you're in London.  it'll also be showing at Filmhouse in Edinburgh. If the cinemas are out of reach then the DVD will be released on the 24th and is available for pre-order.


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