The opening of the film “The Eye Has to Travel” (movie poster above) has sent me down memory lane. In the 1960’s, my first job in Manhattan was at Conde Nast Publications. I had faked my way in by pretending to have shorthand skills and started working for two dashing account executives right out of “Mad Men”.
Sensing the dead-end, not to mention vaguely boring, nature of this job, I wormed my to head of the Conde Nast Foreign Department. This foreign department (cloaks, maybe but no daggers) was the nerve center for all 5 editions of VOGUE as well as all communications between New York and the London/Paris/Rome/Sydney offices. What we did was not so glamourous, but with whom we worked – OH, yes! Diana Vreeland, Alexander Liberman, Grace Mirabella, Lord Snowdon, David Bailey, etc. etc. Heady stuff for a twenty-something.
photo: New York Times/James P Karales/Sam Goldwyn
Like most, I was bewitched and terrified of Mrs. Vreeland. Her famous office wall at VOGUE was as familiar to me as my own office walls hanging with reams of telexes. The girls (we were that, then) in my office fought over who would get to stroll into her office with the latest news from Paris.
Twice a year during Paris Collections week, there was definitely no strolling with the multiple deliveries of couture photos, always past deadline, by Parks (Norman Parkinson) or Avedon or Helmut Newton, featuring Jean Shrimpton or Twiggy. We worked almost around the clock.
Often I would go to Mrs. Vreeland’s Park Avenue apartment to bring or take. And, yes, her famous Billy Baldwin living room – all red, “a garden in hell” by her description – was more fantastic than in the photographs
Eleanor Dwight’s 2002 biography “Diana Vreeland” (William Morrow, photo above) captures her extravagant spirit. The chapter “The Swinging Sixties” is a perfect aide-memoire for the time I spent there. All of those photos passed through our eager hands and fascinated eyes.
Mrs. Vreeland loved to send a brilliant photographer, an inventive model like Verushcka, armloads of clothes and a very harried editor to the ends of the earth to create the drama of VOGUE’s editorial pages which revolutionized fashion reportage. Her brilliant dictum, “Pink is the navy blue of India” came out of the development of one such editorial shoot.
Kay Thompson portrayed Mrs. Vreeland in the 1957 Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn movie “Funny Face”, where one fantastical song/fashion montage – “Think Pink” – is a tribute to Mrs. Vreeland and the creative influence of the fashion industry, and perhaps a precursor of Meryl Streep’s brilliant soliloquy on cerulean in “The Devil Wears Prada”.
Moi, tomorrow in NYC I’m off to the movie…