How Diana Vreeland's Allure changed fashion-speak.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Dec. 27 2010 3:35 PM

The Quotable Diana Vreeland

How the longtime Vogue editor changed fashion-speak.

48_101222_dx_vreeland_launchmod

The current fashion era sometimes seems to be dominated by catchphrases as much as it is by clothes. Think of Project Runway judge Tim Gunn's  "make it work" mantra; designer Isaac Mizrahi's frequent admonishments to contestants on The Fashion Show that "we're just not buying it"; Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf's declaration that tights "are not pants." Like the proverbial dozens of Eskimo words for snow, we have many pithy ways to declare an item's wonderfulness or horribleness (or both at once). For all of this, we have Diana Vreeland, who was editor-in-chief of Vogue from 1963 to 1971, to thank.

Vreeland was dead serious about clothes—she called the bikini the "most important thing since the atom bomb"—but she nonetheless managed to talk about fashion in a way that appreciated and celebrated its frivolity. Had she not died in 1989, she would have made a fantastic blogger; she loved nothing more than broadcasting a contrarian opinion (she embraced both retouching and plastic surgery on the grounds that she had always adored artifice). With a speaking voice that was at the same time stentorian and throaty, she was the master of the grand pronouncement.

Her 1980 book Allure, which has just been republished by Chronicle Books, brings together Vreeland's favorite images—ranging from gruesome photos of an eye lift to a playful shot of Raquel Welch entertaining the troops in Vietnam —with her singular brand of running commentary, taped by her collaborator Christopher Hemphill over the three years it took them to assemble the photographs. (The contents were subsequently edited by Jacqueline Onassis.)

Advertisement

Here, Marilyn Monroe is "a geisha"; blue jeans are "the most beautiful things since the gondola." Rereading Allure, one can't help but hear contemporary echoes: Where Vreeland said "When I see diamonds in a north light, on a little velvet pillow ... I die," celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe says "I die" to an Yves Saint Laurent gown. 

But if today's fashion people speak Vreeland, she does not speak their language. Hers was an era when a fashion editor could get away with saying "people have too many clothes, and I'm sticking with that." Allure takes us back to this time, when "fashion" wasn't yet a synonym for "consumption," when it was better to be wrong than to be boring—just as long as one was clever about it.

Like DoubleX on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

Move Aside, Oxford Comma, the New Battle Is Over Single or Double Quotes

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Ben Bradlee’s Fascinating Relationship With JFK

Culturebox

The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here

I feel like a kid in some kind of store.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 11:06 AM The Right to Run If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 22 2014 11:36 AM Casting the Role of Scarlett O'Hara Was Really, Really Frustrating
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 22 2014 11:04 AM Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 22 2014 10:29 AM Apple TV Could Still Work Here’s how Apple can fix its living-room product.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 22 2014 11:30 AM Where Does Ebola Hide? My nerve-wracking research with shrieking bats.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.