Monday, June 17, 2013

Style Maven: Diana Vreeland and the Met (Part 6)

Diana Vreeland
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)

The Glory of
Russian Costume
 Exhibition Catalog
The Glory of Russian Costume Exhibition (1977): The Glory of Russian Costume, which would break all box-office records , took place against the background of détente with the Soviet Union. It was one of a series of cultural exchanges arranged by Hoving and an “exuberantly corrupt” undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture on the Russian side. The exhibition could never have happened, wrote Hoving, without the involvement of Dian and the recently widowed Jacqueline Onassis, who had taken an editorial job at Viking Press. Diana, Fred Hughes, and Hoving went to Russia to discuss the show early in 1975. Diana told George Plimpton that her reaction to her new surroundings was love at first sight: "When I'd been in Russia for only forty-eight hours, I thought to myself: of all the countries I've known, if it were my country not to be able to come back to this one would be the most terrible." Her enthusiastic reaction paid dividends. A meeting was arranged with Russian officials far too early for Diana, at nin o'clock in the morning the day after they arrived. She told Hoving to talk to them about "museumy" details like shipping and promised to appear at eleven o'clock. Tension mounted as Hoving managed to extend the "museumy" conversation to a full two hours. But Diana did not let them down. "A minute before eleven the door to the conference room opened and in she swept, radiant in crimson and shiny black, her hair pulled back so tightly it looked like a painted surface, neck arched." Hoving knew she could see very little without her glasses, but realized she had taken them off for her grand entrance. "The Russians blinked first. 'Ah, Mrs. Vreeland, what do you think of the Soviet Union?' It was a kind of Last Judgement moment. Diana breathed deeply. 'Ah marvelous! God! marvelous!' she said. "I have been up walking since dawn, ab-so-lute-ly revelling in the vast beauty of this city. God, the women are so beautiful. I mean these complexions! The land is so vast. So...awe-in-spir-ing! So grand. The women are so gorgeous!'" 

She spent hours patiently sifting through hundreds of drawers, and thousands of costumes immaculately folded away in acid-free paper, impressing Hoving once again with her powers of concentration and her capacity for sheer hard work. "She would praise lavishly - and, in time, would criticize, very gently but with needle-like effect..."
While Hoving choked quietly in the corner at the idea of Diana on an early-morning walk, the Russians fell for her completely. After her peroration Diana was given everything she asked for. She was determined to find a peasant costume that she believed had been the inspiration for the Chanel suit during Chanel's affair with Grand Duke Dmitri. "The item was triumphanlty displayed for her. Diana had been right. There was the garnment Chanel had clearly adapted for 'her' classic design," said Hoving."...By the time Diana Vreeland left the Soviet Union, she had become legends there, too."

Vreeland was enraptured by Russia, a reaction that she used to flatter the Russians and expressed repeatedly upon her return home. "Russia is a land of splendor!" she wrote late in an article for Vogue. "It has a high - enormous sky - it has beautiful houses - it is immaculately clean. They are terribly strong - if you want one word that describes the Russian people, it's strength. They can take their winters and they can take their history - and they have survived it all.:.."
The spirit of detente was rather less in eveidence when the costumes finally arrived in New York, however, accompained by several KGB agents and three Russian curators...If Diana "butted heads" with Stella Blum, she locked horns with her Russian counterparts...In the event the nemused Russian curators gave way, though not without great misgivings, shared by Stella Blum.

The red velvet sleigh with the
green velvet gold-embroidered  robe.
Diana was not greatly interested in the vernacular peasant clothes provided by the Russians...Ironically it was the embroidery, the ribbons, the vivid reds, the pearl detail, and the layering of these clothes that had the greatest impact on American designers, influencing the New York collections a short time later. For this exhibition Diana persuaded the house of Chanel to revive an old perfume, Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather), and went to work on a tape of Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. What the Russians made of Diana's decision to throw furs around to give the idea of savagery not recorded. But once again the exhibition was a blockbuster success, exceeding even the Hollywood show in terms of numbers, And a truce was finally achieved with the Russians curators once the exhibition opened.

The exhibition would display the dress of three classes of Russian society - the peasants; the so-called "rich-peasants," who owned their land and were craftsmen and merchants; and the aristocracy and monarchy during the two centuries before the Revolution. 
The committee for the Party of the Year that accompanied the Russian exhibition was led by Pat (Mrs. William) Buckley and included a shifting cast of social luminaries such as Leonore Annenberg, Lee Radziwill, and Gianni Agnelli. Once Jacqueline Onassis agreed to become president of the committee, the party swelled again in size and social importance: "the biggest one of these things the museum has ever had," according to Warhol, who went with Halston's party in a fleet of limousines. 

No comments:

Post a Comment