09/28/2012 12:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Film: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)
Cast includes: Diana Vreeland
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt (Control Room)
Genre: Documentary (86 minutes)

"I think having little bites out of the fashion world is like a starvation diet." Fashion icon, Diana Vreeland was never very rich or beautiful, but she changed the way all of us think about style. At a young age Diana decided that if she was going to live the life she wanted, she'd have to make it herself. Born in Paris in 1903 to an American socialite mother and a British father, Diana's taste was influenced early on by Parisian belle epoch. At the outbreak of WWI, the family moved to New York City, where she enrolled in a dance school. Diana doesn't like talking about her early years, especially her mother. "She used to say 'too bad your sister is so beautiful and you're so extremely ugly.'" Diana knew she needed to make her own path and develop her own style. When she met the handsome Reed Vreeland in 1920, she tells us one of the nicest things about Reed was that he made her feel beautiful.

The Vreelands had two sons, and motherhood is another topic Diana would rather not talk about. "We used to wish for any mother but this one." Her philosophy was certainly untraditional. "She wanted us to either be first in our class or last. Always be original," she used to say. Living in New York, Diana soon realized the importance of money. They didn't have enough to support their lifestyle. Carmel Snow, editor of Harper's Bazaar, offered Diana a job. Diana had never considered working, but Snow said, "Why don't you try it." In 1937 Diana did try it, and her first feature was called "Why don't you..." In it, she threw out assorted wild ideas, and readers loved it. From there her responsibilities grew, and Diana discovered her vocation. Diana didn't just show the latest styles, she set out to be a style leader... discovering new models, looks, fashion, ideas, places... and presenting them as narratives... inviting the eye to travel. At Harper's and later at Vogue, she discovered many now-famous people and was ahead of the curve on recognizing many others. The list includes Lauren Bacall, Lauren Hutton, Angelica Houston, Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Streisand, Mick Jagger -- "those lips" --and many others.

While other magazines promoted the ideal beauty, Diana celebrated the flaws. Instead of trying to minimize Streisand's nose, for example, she'd show it in bold profile and made us see what she saw. Vreeland's impact on the fashion world can't be overstated. There have been a number of recent documentaries about fashion icons. What makes this one stand out is that Vreeland played such a strong role in getting her story told. In 1983, Diana asked George Plimpton to help her with her autobiography. The film liberally uses her narrative, her wit and her quotable lines -- not to mention a wealth of film and photographic imagery from her archives. Vreeland gave fashion a point of view; although others say her greatest contribution was her energy. "Style is everything. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning."

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Self-made fashion icon Diana Vreeland changed our expectations of fashion and style

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative

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