Saturday, March 26, 2016

Alexander Vreeland and Diana Vreeland Parfums

Diana Vreeland, 1979: “There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself.” Photo: Horst P. Horst
by Delia von Neuschatz

“Devastatingly Chic,” “Outrageously Vibrant,” and “Simply Divine” are the names
of three of the heady perfumes that make up the Diana Vreeland Parfums collection. They are also apt descriptions of the inspiration behind the luxury fragrances for Diana Vreeland (1903 – 1989), legendary fashion editor and international style icon, was all of the above and so much more.

“She’s the real deal,” says her grandson, Alexander Vreeland. “We have very few legends and heroes in this business and she’s one of them. There’s a tremendous authenticity to her story.” As columnist and fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar (1936–1962), editor-in-chief of Vogue (1963–1971) and as special consultant to The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1971 – 1989) it’s no exaggeration to say that Diana Vreeland revolutionized everything she touched.
Vreeland, ca. 1930: “You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive.”
At Bazaar, Vreeland reinvented the job of fashion editor which hitherto had largely been the province of society women dressing their society friends. For the Empress of Fashion, personality was what mattered. "Today only personality counts ... I do not believe we should put in [the magazine] so-called society, as it is démodé and practically doesn't exist ... but ravishing personalities are the most riveting things in the world,” she proclaimed. She shaped the careers of photographers, art directors, models and fashion designers including Oscar de la Renta, Manolo Blahnik, Richard Avedon and Diane von Furstenberg. She “discovered” Lauren Bacall at the age of 16, putting her on the cover of the March 1943 issue.
"She's perfect all over and yet she looks like nobody else," said Diana Vreeland of Lauren Bacall whom she placed on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1943. Upon seeing the cover, Slim Keith, the wife of powerful Hollywood director, Howard Hawks, urged her husband to screen test the young model for his upcoming film To Have and have Not (“You do know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?”) and the rest is cinematic history. Photo: Louise Dahl-Wolfe
Diana Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar, 1946. Photo: Richard Avedon
Vreeland’s “Why Don’t You …?” column, begun in 1936, exhorted readers to be original and creative and re-invent themselves: "Why don't you . . . Turn your child into an Infanta for a fancy-dress party?" she queried. “Why don’t you… Wash your blonde child’s hair in dead champagne, as they do in France?…” “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?”
Vreeland’s “Why Don’t You …?” column, December 1936.
The so-called Sultan of Style brought her international, cosmopolitan point of view to Vogue, transforming what had been a sleepy social magazine into the dominant fashion presence of today. Eagerly embracing the counter-culture of the 1960s, Vreeland unleashed her fevered imagination in its pages, publishing wildly creative editorial spreads. And by championing unconventional beauties like Veruschka, Penelope Tree, Twiggy, Angelica Huston, Marisa Berenson and Edie Sedgwick, the editor-in-chief did nothing less than redefine the era’s standards of beauty.
In 1966, with Vreeland at the helm, Vogue sent a team to Japan in the middle of winter on what may be the most epic of fashion shoots. In those pre-PETA days, the 26-page editorial shot by Richard Avedon and featuring the 6’3” German model, Veruschka, was dedicated to the beauty of furs. Fifteen trunks of clothes were hauled into the snow-covered mountains for a five-week shoot which reportedly cost $1 million. With her MO being to give ideas to creative people and then letting them get on with their work, Vreeland’s only directive to the fashion editor, Polly Mellen, was to read The Tale of Genji. During Vreeland’s eight-year reign at Vogue, shoot locations included India, Mexico, Sicily, Iran, Jordan and Syria.
The MET’s Costume Institute was similarly transformed under Vreeland’s tutelage. Pre-DV, the place had been an obscure division frequented mostly by fashion designers and scholars. Post-DV, the young and trendy became museum patrons and donations to the Costume Institute skyrocketed. With her customary indefatigable energy, Vreeland had mounted 16 shows in as many years. Some exhibits had to be kept open for nine months on account of the heavy traffic - close to a million, for example, came to see “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design.”
Diana Vreeland at the MET's Costume Institute. She created the MET Ball. "My grandmother established the axis between fashion and art which had never existed before," says Alexander. "She created the modern role between fashion and museums, and the dynamism that made possible something like the Alexander McQueen show."
As Alexander Vreeland sees it, the fil conducteur or common thread of his grandmother’s life is boldness, beauty and extravagance. It is the feeling that “I can rule the world and everything is possible,” he enthuses. “And it is this optimism, this sense of endless possibility that we try to capture with the fragrance collection.” Launched in 2014 with five scents, Diana Vreeland Parfums collaborated with four renowned perfumers from International Fragrances and Flavors to create a line which now comprises nine perfumes, three scented candles and one body cream. “We want to create a unique point of view in everything we do and we are demanding the most beautiful, luxurious products.” The inspiration - Diana Vreeland’s many passions which encompassed travel, orientalism and multiculturalism – are reflected in the scents which include Tunisian jasmine, amber, sandalwood, tuberose, citrus and vetiver.
Alexander Vreeland with the Diana Vreeland Parfums line at Bergdorf Goodman: “The concept was “If my grandmother was 35 today, what would she wear? We didn’t want to re-create classic fragrances. We wanted to have a new language.” The fragrances are sold in 22 countries and in the US, they can be purchased at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. They are also available online. The 100ml bottles cost $250 while the 50ml are $185.
The candles have 17% fragrance oil in them which is 3x the industry standard according to Alexander. They have a very strong scent whether they are lit or not. “That the scents are long-lasting is very important to the brand. We wanted the products to be bold and present like my grandmother,” explains Alexander.
Unlike the perfumes and candles, the body cream, contained in elegant red glass jars, has a neutral scent. “My grandmother loved thick, nutritional creams,” says Alexander. But, this one is not ‘gooky” like the ones that existed during her time. It dries nice and clean.”
“This is a great shame, but of course there have to be some things in life that not everybody can have and a great perfume is one of them.” – Diana Vreeland
The "gifting approach" to the packaging renders the products ideal for gift-giving. New fragrance launches are planned for the upcoming year and a lipstick line is currently in the works.
Diana Vreeland in her apartment at 550 Park Avenue which she shared with her husband Reed and their two sons. She had famously instructed decorator, Billy Baldwin, to make her living room “look like a garden, but a garden in hell.”
In the belief that “fragrances fill the senses with the mysterious,” Diana Vreeland surrounded herself with scent. According to Alexander, she had a hypodermic needle with which she injected her favorite scents into her living room pillows. “She also had candles burning, incense burning, potpourri, room spray and those scented ceramic rings that you put on top of light bulbs – all going at the same time,” recalls Alexander.
Diana Vreeland with her husband Reed, a banker. Born in Paris, Vreeland was the eldest daughter of an American socialite and a British financier. The young couple moved to New York from London in 1936. Reed Vreeland’s ancestors settled in New York (or New Amsterdam as it was then called) in the 1630s. “I’m 12th generation Manhattan,” observes Alexander.
Directed and produced by Alexander’s wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, The Eye Has to Travel is a 2011 documentary about Diana Vreeland’s life and career. “The film was an inspiration because it became clear that what my grandmother had done had a far greater reach and impact – all over the world - than we had realized. I am always amazed at how much her spirit still spurs people to do great things,” says Alexander.
Alexander Vreeland is executor of his grandmother’s estate.
Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years, edited by Alexander Vreeland, chronicles the editor’s tenure at Vogue. “Nonina [my grandmother] would sit [in her bathroom] for hours, dressed in a bathrobe, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes while she dictated memos and letters to her secretaries at Vogue. By the time Nonina arrived in the office, which was never before noon, she had already finished her daily correspondence.”
Perhaps the word “unforgettable” should also feature in a scent’s name for life with Diana Vreeland was nothing if not memorable. Her grandson recalls how for his 17th birthday, she took him to a Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, they headed to Mick Jagger’s own birthday party on the roof of the St. Regis Hotel where guests were entertained by a fierce tap dancing competition and listened to the strains of Duke Ellington’s band. “It was all just incredible,” remembers Alexander.
Diana Vreeland with her son Frederick and grandson Alexander circa 1960. Born in Switzerland, Alexander lived in Germany, Morocco, New York and Paris as the family followed Frederick who became US Ambassador to Morocco, on his diplomatic missions. “My grandmother was very present in my life,” recalls Alexander who is fluent in several languages. “As we lived overseas, she would come and visit us. She intersected my whole childhood. She was always very inspiring never telling me what to do. She didn’t tell me who to go out with or what career I should pursue which was pretty wonderful.” Before taking over the duties of his grandmother’s estate, Alexander pursued a career on the business side of the fashion industry, working in marketing and communications for Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani. His brother Nicky became a Tibetan-Buddhist monk.
But, Diana Vreeland was more than just simply social. “She had tremendous discipline and a very strong work ethic,” says Alexander. She would wake up early, he remembers, and be on the phone to her assistants from about 8:30 to 12:00. She would then go to the office for the rest of the day and out to dinner in the evening. When she got home, she would switch on the light box that was on her dining room table and mark the negatives at hand. “My grandmother became editor-in-chief of Vogue at 60 and went to the MET at 70 with no plans to slow down,” he remarks. “We live in a culture where, if you haven't achieved life goals by the time you're 30, then you'll never get there. Whereas she was somebody who saw life up until the age of 60 as a warm-up.” That is “Absolutely Vital” and “Perfectly Marvelous” indeed.
Expert Tip: Diana Vreeland advised: "You should never put scent on immediately after your bath. That's the biggest mistake going - there's nothing for it to cling to."
For more beauty tips and information, follow Delia on Instagram: @chasingbeautywithdvn.