DIANA VR EEL AND

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Diana Vree­land spent 26 years as an editor of Harper’s Bazaar, blaz­ing an in­deli­ble trail with her dar­ing ap­proach to fash­ion. Ahead of a new book, her grand­son Alexan­der

Vree­land re­calls her im­pec­ca­ble eye for the un­ex­pected. As told to Char­lotte Cowles.

My Grand­mother had a ten­dency to ro­man­ti­cize. My fam­ily and I lived in Morocco for a while when I was a child, and she was con­vinced that I went to school on a horse and had a camel in the backyard. To this day she would still be­lieve that. That was just her ver­sion. And it didn’t seem nec­es­sary to tam­per with it. I didn’t want to say, “No, I go to school on a bus.” Her ro­man­tic vi­sions were part of why she was so suc­cess­ful. It’s how she inspired peo­ple like Richard Ave­don to cre­ate these amaz­ing, fan­tas­tic pic­tures. Of course, if she had been a book­keeper or a news­caster and was ro­man­ti­ciz­ing facts and fig­ures, then that would be wor­ri­some. But her imag­i­na­tion gave her im­ages that sense of dreami­ness.

My first mem­ory of my grand­mother is from when I was about five years old. She was work­ing at Harper’s BAZAAR at the time, and I was liv­ing in Ger­many with my fam­ily. She and my grand­fa­ther came to Bonn and spent a week with us. We vis­ited Ger­man cas­tles, and I re­mem­ber hav­ing a won­der­ful pic­nic lunch in Rema­gen, where the Al­lies crossed the Rhine dur­ing World War II. I also re­mem­ber all the bags she had. If you have to count the bags, you know it’s too many! There was al­ways a ma­jor pro­ces­sion of Louis Vuit­ton trunks, and af­ter ev­ery trip she took they had to go back to An evening sil­hou­ette,

Louis Vuit­ton to be re­fit­ted. snapped by Ave­don I knew from the be­gin­ning that my grand­mother was dif­fer­ent. She cer­tainly wasn’t the kind of grand­mama who would cook a big pot of pasta on the stove. But she was never in­tim­i­dat­ing to me. In my teens, I went to school in Paris, and she would visit me when­ever she came for work. She al­ways wanted to know what my life was like and what I was do­ing and see­ing, but she wasn’t the kind of per­son to pep­per you with ques­tions; the con­ver­sa­tion was al­ways spon­ta­neous. She liked to walk and talk – not that we’d go very far, just a block or two, and then we’d get back in the car. Her used of words, her ca­dence, her play­ing with vol­ume was so rich and dy­namic that there was an ex­otic qual­ity to her com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Fash­ion peo­ple can be very catty and judg­men­tal, and put down oth­ers and crit­i­cize what they’re wear­ing, but my grand­mother wasn’t from that school. She re­ally be­lieved that if you didn’t have some­thing pos­i­tive to say, don’t say any­thing. And that was such a re­lief in a world of peo­ple who can be so out­spo­ken in their crit­i­cism. You see so many peo­ple who say, “Oh, that jacket is too short,” or “Her bun is ter­ri­ble, and it shouldn’t be there.” She didn’t work that way. Her out­look was tremen­dously em­pow­er­ing, be­cause she didn’t im­pose any­thing on any­one. She had a unique char­ac­ter in that she wasn’t re­ally a so­ci­ety woman, nor a critic or a so­cial ac­tivist. She wasn’t a lot of things, but she felt that she had plenty on her plate, and she'd just do what she did. She didn’t feel that her work was a trampoline for some­thing else.

I was born in 1955, and my grand­mother left BAZAAR in ’62. I was very, very close with her, but she never talked about her ca­reer. I think it’s be­cause she didn’t look at her job that way. She saw it as what she was work­ing on at the time, and she was not the type of per­son to talk about work out­side of work. She was never po­lit­i­cal about her job. She didn’t have man­age­ment re­treats, she didn’t have meet­ings, she didn’t have agen­das and goals or lists of who we’re go­ing to be and who we’re go­ing to talk to. She had no mar­ket­ing depart­ment. She just wrote memos and letters to the peo­ple she worked with who were good, and put out a great mag­a­zine. Sup­pos­edly, my grand­mother got to BAZAAR be­cause Carmel Snow, who was then the editor-in-chief, saw my grand­par­ents out danc­ing one night. She thought my grand­mother looked amaz­ing, so she said, “Come see me at Harper’s BAZAAR,” and then gave her a job. I don’t know if it re­ally did hap­pen that way, although I think the bones of the story are pretty solid.

My grand­mother was at BAZAAR for 26 years, and the body of work she helped This Ave­don por­fo­lio kick-started China Machado's mod­el­ing ca­reer in the US

Vree­land with her son Fred­er­ick and grand­son

Alexan­der, circa 1960.

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