Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

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Archive footage of Diana Vreeland allows a true self-portrait of her life and times. Photo / Supplied
Archive footage of Diana Vreeland allows a true self-portrait of her life and times. Photo / Supplied

US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the inspiration behind the novel and film The Devil Wears Prada, has a reputation for being, shall we say, intimidating to work for. She has nothing on her predecessor - the witty and articulate arbiter of taste and style, Diana Vreeland.

With no formal tertiary education, Diana Vreeland rose to the top of the fashion publishing industry where for 25 years she was the fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar and then the editor-in-chief at US Vogue. Thanks to her reputation as a formidable boss, she too inspired a film character, Maggie Prescott in 1957's Funny Face.

Diana Vreeland passed away in 1989, and this documentary was produced and directed by her grandson's wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland. It features conversations recorded between Diana and writer George Plimpton, who assisted Vreeland in writing her memoirs, archive footage (the television interviews are the best), family photos, and interviews with those who knew her best.

Thanks to the all this footage, Vreeland is able to tell her story in her own words, from her childhood in Paris and then chronologically through her life and career. It's a classic American self-made success story, a woman who went to work to support her lifestyle and found herself "mad" for it, and transformed herself into the "Empress of Fashion".

Immordino Vreeland's tone is one of admiration, but she doesn't avoid the controversial aspects of Vreeland's personality. She was by no means the most beautiful woman in the fashion industry, but she learnt how to make her mark with intellect and wit. She was never short of a smart quip and never afraid to speak her mind - if she was still with us she would no doubt be tearing it up on Twitter.

But there is more to Vreeland than a few good lines. She was the first to see fashion and photography as a form of art, loathed nostalgia and was a great trendsetter. She popularised the bikini, the blue jean, gave Jackie Kennedy her style, and launched the careers of models and actors such as Lauren Bacall and Angelica Huston. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel does a good job of explaining how Diana's artistic vision and fashion sensibility revolutionised the modern fashion magazine.

The film focuses mostly on her career, and given the access Immordino Vreeland has to Diana's family it's a shame there isn't more personal material from Diana's children about the impact of having a workaholic mother. You get the feeling those thoughts have intentionally been left unsaid.

Stars: 4/5
Cast: Diana Vreeland, Anjelica Houston, Manolo Blahnik, Calvin Klein
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Running Time: 86 mins
Rating: G
Verdict: An engaging, enlightening biography.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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