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Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel: Film Review

Diana Vreeland Film Still - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Vivid, delicious trip through the heyday of fashion mags is a must for followers of clothes, print design, and high society.

Opens

Friday, Sept. 21 (Samuel Goldwyn Films, Epix Pictures)

Directors

Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Frédéric Tcheng

In debut doc, Lisa Immordino Vreeland celebrates the grandmother-in-law she never met.

Was any woman ever hipper, more discerning, bon-vivant-ier than fashion-mag legend Diana Vreeland? Vreeland's granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland doesn't think so, and after listening to the interviewees in her debut film Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, it's hard to disagree. The vibrant, entertaining and of course stylish doc should enjoy a nice arthouse run before becoming an essential presence on the DVD shelves of fashionistas everywhere. Wait: Do stylish people still buy physical media?

Being born into Paris' Belle Epoque tends to set one's bar for style high, so when Vreeland's socialite parents moved her to the US during WWI, she kept her eyes peeled for the best things going. She spent the '20s dancing in Harlem, then moved to London and started a lingerie business -- where selling alluring underthings to Wallis Simpson may have helped end an English King's reign.

However many historical figures she may or may not have spent time with (Buffalo Bill -- really?), it was all prelude for two incredibly influential magazine jobs: first becoming fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, then editor-in-chief at Vogue. The film offers a wealth of two-page spreads from this era, layouts and photography that still spark fantasies of a finer, more adventurous life. If the magazines don't speak for themselves, an array of guests -- from models (Veruschka) to photographers (David Bailey) and present-day designers (Manolo Blahnik) -- testify to her influence, then continue with colorful accounts of her eccentricities. Though the footage we see of Vreeland herself (lots of it, thankfully, mostly from interviews given in later years) barely hints at an unpleasant side, former employees (like actress Ali McGraw, who worked for her just out of college) describe what a terrifying work environment her unpredictable certainties about what was just-right and what was all-wrong created.

Stitching all this together is voiceover in which interviews George Plimpton did with Vreeland are read by two actors. Annette Miller, who gets to read lines containing some of the sharpest wit to grace movie theaters lately, mimics the editor's singular speech (in which, say, "popular" become "BAHPulur") with aplomb.

Production Company: Mago Media
Directors-
Screenwriters: Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Frédéric Tcheng

Producer: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Executive producers: Jonathan Gray, Gloss Studio
Director of photography: Cristobal Zanartu
Music: Paul Cantelon
Editor: Frederic Tcheng, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt
PG-13, 85 minutes