Saturday, July 29, 2006

Think Pink!

Fashion editor and arbiter Diana Vreeland was born on this day in 1903 in Paris. As fashion editor and later editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar (1936-62) and editor of Vogue (1963-71), Vreeland was for many years a most forceful, charismatic, flamboyant and keeningly witty author of the last word on contemporary fashion and design.

Beginning with her "Why Don't You . . .?" columns in the 1930s, she drew dynamically upon images from a variety of exotic and old world sources -- from bullfighting to dance to gypsies to equestrians -- to juxtapose and astonish in the service of creating sophisticated image fantasies for a sophisticated audience of society dames, New York intellectuals and Broadway chorines. As Richard Avedon observed, "Vreeland invented the fashion editor. Before, it was society ladies who put hats on other society ladies."

Her observational bon-mots were legendary: "Pink," according to Vreeland, "is the navy blue of India"; and blue jeans, in her opinion, were "the most beautiful things since the gondola." But the wacky glibness of her commentary sometimes overshadowed the deliberateness of her visual sensitivities and propensities. Delighting in contrast, she sought in the visible world around her a balance between the refinement that had long been a hallmark of upper-class fashion as an indiom, with a sense of wildness and lively exploration, inviting cultural pluralism into women's wardrobes -- enticing smart women to wear "bright yellow shantung pyjamas," or dark red Louis XIV pumps "with a bright red handkerchief printed with wall-paper roses," or "little striped boleros trimmed with gold beadings and fringes," or an Italian driver's coat, or black astrakhan booties, or "a black wool skirt split to the knees, revealing a flask of [splendorous Hindu] parlor-pink pants" -- as a way to liberate and inspire.

Her expansive approach was easily parodied, and she was lampooned by Kay Thompson in Funny Face (1956, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire), as the fashion editor who tells her followers to "Think pink!"

She died on August 22, 1989.

"She's a genius but she's the kind of genius that very few people will ever recognize because you have to have genius yourself to recognize it. Otherwise you just think she's a rather foolish woman." -- Truman Capote.

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