In directing Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel – a portrait of the legendary fashion editor – Lisa Immordino Vreeland had a distinct advantage: she’s the granddaughter-in-law of the lady herself. Here, she talks to TFR about the documentary on the iconic woman who she was never able to meet…
When did you decide you wanted to make a documentary about your grandmother-in-law?
It was a book project that started about three years ago and I then decided to make the film. I was about two months into the process when I just thought, you know what? It would be kind of silly not to do a film – although I had never done one before. I found really great editors, who then became the co-directors: Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frédéric Tcheng. They showed me filmmaking.
Tell me about the interview used as a voiceover – where did it come from? Why did you decide to use that interview in particular to structure your film?
As I started making this film, it just so happened that Vreeland’s lawyer – who was in control of the estate – died, and these tapes appeared. Also my husband had [some] tapes which were [recordings] between George Plimpton, the writer who also edited her autobiography D.V., and Diana Vreeland. There were about 18 tapes, an hour on each side. It was quite amazing to have this material because it really showed her in a very intimate way. It showed that she was very down-to-earth in some ways and very over-the-top in others. It was great to be able to use it. Any time you hear her, it is something that she said. It may not necessarily come from the tapes… It might have come from D.V. or one or two other important articles, but when you see her, that’s her voice. The transcripts were never printed anywhere, they’re just used in the film, and in my book.
To what extent did you want to give a balanced and honest portrayal of Diana Vreeland, including the criticisms which were made of her, amongst all the praise?
I wanted it to come alive and I think that the real issue which we had was that there weren’t enough people saying negative things about her. We had to grab anything which created some strong emotion, in order give the film sort of an arc.
Did you deliberately time the film’s release to coincide with the end of London Fashion Week? How has it been received by the fashion industry?
In the US, we were initially going to release the film at the Costume Institute during the gala, however, we hadn’t cleared all the rights in time, so we did it during fashion week instead. We’re taking advantage of all the fashion weeks. It’s kind of perfect, except you’re always challenged with schedules. Here [in the UK], the première of the film is on the same night as a very big Obama fundraiser that Anna Wintour and Tom Ford are doing, so Tom and Richard [Buckley] will not be with us that night.
How similar or different is the film to your book?
It’s not an adaptation. The film is actually much more biographical. She’d already written her autobiography [D.V.], so I wanted this book to be very visual, to have her speak throughout the book and to have her quotes come alive. I also wanted to show new photographs, because there’s so many hundreds of photographs but I don’t think anyone had ever taken the time to go through all of the magazines and look at them, and that’s what I did.
With Diana Vreeland’s tendency to exaggerate and bend the truth, was the film ever difficult to research and find out the facts?
No, I mean, you couldn’t check if she rode with Buffalo Bill ten times, but I don’t think she lied about that – I think that it was maybe as many times as she said. I think it’s the same thing with Diaghilev and Nijinsky – they did go to her living room in Bois de Boulogne, but I never wanted to be so factual about exactly how many times. When she’s talking about seeing Hitler at the opera, at one of [Richard] Strauss’ performances, I think it’s true.
Is Diana Vreeland’s eccentricity part of the reason for her legacy? Did she purposefully give herself an interesting character, or was she just being herself?
I think that she was a very eccentric character. I love seeing her on screen…I look at her and I think ‘Who are you? You are so funny!’ She had this rhythm about her, you could even see it in the way she talked and the way she motioned with her hands. I think that some of the ways which she pronounced things were totally exaggerated, but I think that just became part of her persona. Now that I know her, I don’t find it in any way pretentious, because she was not a pretentious person.
What was the most interesting discovery you made while putting together this documentary?
Probably this outpouring of love and affection which the people who I interviewed had for her. Sometimes people were giving me 2-3 hours to chat, but they did it for her, they didn’t do it for me.
How conscious were you, or how important was it, for the film itself to be ‘stylish’?
Oh, it had to be. I think that that was probably one of the biggest challenges – not to achieve it, but to maintain it. It was the same thing with the book – I had to make a very beautiful book, not because I’m a family member, but because you just can’t do it to her. We had such beautiful materials, such beautiful photography. I loved the sense of keeping this archival setting of the magazines and we worked with a great animation team called Edgeworx – we had them flip through the pages [on screen] and slide through scenes.
This was your first film project – what do you plan to do next?
Peggy Guggenheim. She was a very important art collector. She was mentored by Marcel Duchamp and she has the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice, which is part of the Guggenheim umbrella. She had a very important collection of surrealist and abstract art, and she was another visionary, strong woman.
Which of Diana Vreeland’s infamous Why Don’t You’s is your favourite?
There are SO many. I really love, “Why don’t you paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys’ nursery so they won’t grow up with a provincial point of view?” because it’s really so much about her view of life, which transcended fashion. That’s what I thought was so important; just by her saying that so many years ago, she was clearly not what people have always perceived her to be.
What do you think Diana herself would make of the film?
I think she would like it, simply because we have so many of her friends and family in it. I think she would say thank you for doing this – I don’t think she thought that she had a legacy. I think she was very humble about these things, I really do, and I liked that about her.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is out on DVD on 29th October. Take a look at our review of the film.