Diana Vreeland — the first famous fashionista

Seemingly every big name from the 20th-century fashion world has something to say about the groundbreaking editor who ruled Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue from the 1930s into the late ’60s.

In part, that’s what makes “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” so much fun.

Richard Avedon, Diane von Furstenberg, Lauren Hutton, Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta are just a handful among dozens whose comments resonate in the entertaining and educational documentary.

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Making her first film, director-producer Lisa Immordino Vreeland (who never met her subject, who died in 1989) had an “in.” Married to Vreeland’s grandson Alexander, she had access to an extensive network and archives, including footage of engaging interviews with Vreeland.

The result is a comprehensive, perhaps a bit too rosy, picture of a woman whose iconoclastic views influenced, and merged, the worlds of fashion, art, publishing and pop culture for the first time.

As described by Ali MacGraw, her assistant at Vogue, she was very much like the quirky, demanding fashion editor characters in the films “Funny Face” and lesser-known “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” — clips of which are in the documentary.

People whom she befriended, and/or made famous, also are covered, from Twiggy to Cher to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. After John F. Kennedy’s presidential win, the first photograph of the couple in the White House was published in Harper’s Bazaar, thanks to Vreeland’s connection with the First Lady.

Interviews with her sons reveal, but don’t deeply explore, how Vreeland’s family life suffered as a result of nonstop work (she herself says she didn’t take a day off for 30 years), and her falling out at Vogue in the 1970s also gets short shrift.

Yet Vreeland’s attention to detail, her love of new and exciting images, her devotion to and ability to identify, that ethereal thing called style, come across loudly and clearly.  

She was pioneer in her magazines’ pages, showcasing unusual faces — Barbra Streisand and Anjelica Huston, for example — who defy classic notions of beauty.

Nicely, the movie also illustrates how she exemplified her idea to expand America’s definition of beauty. An ugly ducking as a child, she bucks conventionality as an adult. While not against plastic surgery, she eschews it for herself, instead celebrating her features with a trademark look: little to no eye makeup, accented by brightly rouged cheeks and lips — and sometimes ears.

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