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What becomes a legend most: Director dishes about Diana Vreeland

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:07AM

Lisa Immordino Vreeland admits that when she married into the family, she didn’t know much about fashion icon Diana Vreeland, editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, who was known for her pithy quips. But in the years since, she has made it her job to find out more. She has gathered all her findings in the documentary, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” (which opens Friday in Chicago).

Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who is married to Alexander Vreeland, grandson of the fashion doyenne, drew from hours of taped conversations that Vreeland made with editor George Plimpton while working on her memoirs. She also uncovered a long lost copy of Vreeland’s appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” and a full set of bound Bazaars from the Vreeland years. And she had no trouble getting Vreeland’s friends, family and co-workers to talk.

In a phone call from London, where she had just attended the film’s opening-night festivities with many of Vreeland’s old friends, Immordino Vreeland discussed her grandmother-in-law’s legacy, the mak­ing of the film and one absent talking head:

Q. What inspired you to delve into Vreeland’s life?

A. My desire was to redefine Diana Vreeland for a new generation, and for myself, in a sense. I had married into the family but I had no strong sense of who she was. I wanted to know how her mind worked. She understood what high and low culture was about, and she wove this into her vision. Vogue wasn’t much of anything when she got there and she moved it into its golden years.

Q. While making the film did you learn anything about Vreeland that surprised you?

A. By talking to people who knew her, I found this very human side. I was amazed by the amount of people who were touched by her. Even today, she was touching their lives. Many had tears in their eyes as they talked about her and told stories.

Q. You are now part of the Vreeland family but were there any restrictions on the content of the film?

A. Being in the family gave me a sort of freedom. I didn’t feel any pressure at all and had total freedom to tell her story.

But I did think, “What if I screw this up?’ I knew I had to tell all sides of her life. She became a career woman without striving to be one, and it overtook her life and affected her relationship with her two sons.

Q. Current Vogue editor Anna Wintour is conspicuously absent from the documentary. Did you approach her about participating?

A. I contacted the magazine and met with her as a courtesy when we started working on the film. But Vogue’s official message was that they were not keen on revisiting the Vreeland years. So that was that. However, Vogue publisher Conde Nast has been generous in many other ways, as was Hearst [publisher of Harper’s Bazaar] and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

Q. You have said you aren’t sure you were Vreeland’s “kind of girl.” Could you elaborate?

A. I don’t think I’m snazzy enough or cool enough. I’ve never been one to look for people’s approval, so I don’t think I would have gotten her ultimate approval. I’ve always done my own thing. But she was a bit of a rebel herself, so perhaps we would have connected in that way.

Mary Houlihan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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