Thursday, June 13, 2013

Style Maven: Diana Vreeland and the Met (Part 5)

As I said in Part 1 of this Style Maven series featuring Diana Vreeland, my quest on #IMFblog has been to examine where trends and social behavior originated as it pertains to fashion and style. I aim to find what fashion was, and what we are turning it into day by day going forward. Diana Vreeland having served as Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief at a time when fashion became a powerful tool of expression for women helped her to convey to America a concept of beauty that was aspirational and liberating for all women to follow. Diana Vreeland’s aura is still riddled in the excitement associated with the fashion industry, and the way that we think about fashion is a product of the mind of this visionary figure. That is why this month and next month I choose to delve into her work at the Costume Institute which is another arena of fashion where she brought her inimitable influence setting a standard that we still aim to achieve not just for fashion, but in the field of costume curating. I want to examine what we can learn from DV about style and fashion through her curatorial work. I figure, in light of this year’s exhibition opening, doing so will give us an eye into the difficulty of producing an exhibition, and Vreeland’s thoughts on how to create drama in presentation. In my fashion, one who has style has a recognizable character, and those who understand the character they play in life have the power to produce a life’s story that teaches others what it means to live a fulfilling life. (Photos and text come from the following books: ‘The Empress of Fashion’ by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, ‘Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel’ by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, and ‘Diana Vreeland’ by Eleanor Dwight)

American Women of Style Exhibition (1976): After the Hollywood exhibition Diana returned to another subject close to her heart. American Women of Style, which coincided with the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976, was an exhibition of the great stylists who had animated and created fashion before the Second World War. André Leon Talley thought that it was her masterwork, “a true expression of her own personal tastes.” He particularly liked the fact that she included Josephine Baker in the show. “This was an important moment; no African-American woman had ever, until then, been placed in the same stylistic league as say, Isodora Duncan.” As well as Duncan and Baker, the women in the exhibition included Rita Lydig, Elsie de Wolfe, Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, and Millicent Rogers. 

Andre Leon Talley helped to get backing from Ebony Magazine to help finance the borrowing of Josephine Baker's costumes, the grandiose Folies-Bergere costumes with their butterfly wings studded with brilliants and trimmed with white plumes, headdresses of ostrich feathers, and outfits in vibrant pink, coral, turquoise, purple and orange. 

They all “created themselves,” said Diana. In one way or another, all the women included had inspired her. They met, said Stella Blum, “on the common ground of excellence,” and all of them “had an inordinate aesthetic sensitivity—a strong creative drive that looked for a perfect expression for their highly charged motivations.” American Women of Style was another box-office success, attracting numbers comparable to The Tens, Twenties, and Thirties.

Vreeland's ten women were not all show; they were also models of strength. Almost all were involved in women's suffrage movements, and although Diana Vreeland resembled some more than others, she undoubtedly saw a bit of herself in each one - the performer, trendsetter, the aristocrat, the carefree socialite, the art patron, and finally the foremost pillar of style. 

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