Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland at the Museo Fortuny Venezia Palazzo Orfei

During our stay in Venice last week, my husband and I visited the Museo Fortuny Venezia Palazzo Orfei and while there visited the Diana Vreeland exhibit.  If you aren’t already familiar with Vreeland, she was a fashion editor and icon, who worked at Harper’s Bazaar and was the Editor in Chief of Vogue. Later in life she served as a curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here are a few snapshots I took at the exhibit of old photos and clippings from her life:

Diana Vreeland was born in 1903 in Paris, France to an American socialite mother (Emily Key Hoffman) and a British father (Frederick Young Dalziel).  Her family emigrated to America and became prominent figures in New York City.  Diana married Thomas Reed Vreeland in 1924 and like many women, took time to raise her two sons in Albany before moving to London with her family and opening a lingerie business (her clients included Wallis Simpson!).  Due to her upbringing, Diana was no stranger to society.  She had met Coco Chanel in 1926 and purchased clothing from her — and she was one of fifteen American women presented to King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace in 1933.  She and her husband, Thomas, returned to New York in 1937 where she started out as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar.  According to Wikepedia, Diana “discovered” actress Lauren Bacall in the 1940’s and featured her on a Harper’s cover.  During her time at Harper’s, Vreeland worked closely with Richard Avedon and she became Fashion Editor of the magazine.  In the 1950’s she moved into the apartment which she famously decorated (with Billy Baldwin) completely in red.  She entertained notables such as C.Z. Guest, Cole Porter, Cecil Beaton and others.  When the Kennedys were in the White House, Diana advised Jackie on matters of style…she left Harper’s to join Vogue and served as Editor in Chief there from 1963 to 1971.  She was later a consultant to the Costume Institute where she assisted in curating twelve exhibitions.  Where matters of style were concerned, there was little Vreeland didn’t see or do.

The Museo Fortuny exhibit takes viewers on a tour of personal effects, photos and costumes she curated.  We saw couture creations from the Orient (Orientalism), North Africa, 1900 to 1939 (10’s, 20’s and the 30’s) and Vreeland favorites from Mondrian and Yves Saint Laurent, Russia (Russia imagined by YSL), Missoni and Pucci.  The exhibit is small but gives us a glimpse of her greatness and lasting legacy.

Drawings of Diana Vreeland by Cecil Beaton, with other paintings.
“The bikini is the most important thing since the atom bomb” -Diana Vreeland

“You know the greatest thing is passion, without it what have you got? I mean if you love someone you can love them as much as you can love them but if it isn’t a passion, it isn’t burning, it isn’t on fire, you haven’t lived.”  -Diana Vreeland

“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?” -Diana Vreeland, 1936

“There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself.” -Diana Vreeland 

“Style– all who have it share one thing: originality.”  -Diana Vreeland

“Then I said something I’ve always known. I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t get it from you, shall we say, and I didn’t make it up, but I’ve known it for all my life. “Elegance”, I said “is refusal.  -Diana Vreeland

”Whatever the fashion, the important thing is time for upkeep. We take it for granted that a girl gets the best she can for herself. But, if she doesn’t keep it up, if it isn’t in beautiful condition, if the shoes aren’t cleaned before she wears them every day and her bag isn’t cleaned and everything in it cleaned, she’ll never look like anything.”  –Diana Vreeland, The New York Times, 1977

Allure is a word very few people use nowadays, but it’s something that exists. Allure holds you, doesn’t it? Whether it’s a gaze or a glance in the street or a face in the crowd or someone sitting opposite you at lunch… you are held.”  -Diana Vreeland

“Style was a standard. Didn’t hurt anyone… But you gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.”  -Diana Vreeland

Vreeland in the Red Room designed by Billy Baldwin


Thirteen years after her death, Vreeland’s impact on the world of fashion and design is still felt.  Take a look at the website run by her estate, DianaVreeland.com.  If you are in Venice, swing by the exhibit and tell us what you think!

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