THOSE BOLD ENOUGH TO BUCK THE RULES ARE THE ONES WHO DEFINE OUR ASPIRATIONS. THE SPRING COLLECTIONS PAY WELL-DESERVED HOMAGE TO ECCENTRICS PAST.
Those bold enough to buck the rules are the ones who define our aspirations, in style and beyond. spring’s collections pay welldeserved homage to eccentrics past.
In the past several years I have managed to make a full-time job out of examining the singular visions and particularities of some of the world’s most fascinating eccentrics. First on my list was Diana Vreeland, my husband’s grandmother, who became the subject of my first film and book,
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. Diana was the ultimate eccentric: rule-bending and individualistic in both aesthetics and mentality. Though I relish wearing some of her old cashmere sweaters—and am delighted to see her continually referenced on runways—what captivates me most about her are the fabulous (if sometimes slightly dubious) stories she loved to tell.
Diana claimed, for instance, that when she was a small child she was one of the last people to see the Mona Lisa before it was stolen from the Louvre, in 1911. She also liked to say that she was present during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, the evening Hitler purged the Nazi party of anyone he felt was disloyal to him. She may or may not have been everything she professed to be, but she was never, ever boring.
Neither was Peggy Guggenheim, another glorious demonstration that eccentricity is a matter of both style and substance. In researching my second film, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, I learned just how much independence and bravery it took for Guggenheim to step away from her very traditional roots and move at the age of 20 to Paris, where she was famously photographed by Man Ray in Poiret dresses, became part of the milieu of the Surrealist artists, and ultimately set out on the path to becoming a world famous patron. In her later years she amassed a collection of artworks that has made history, and she did it all in massive butterflyshaped sunglasses, surrounded by an army of Lhasa Apsos.
Most recently I completed work on Love, Cecil, a book and film about the photographer and stage designer Cecil Beaton, a man who worshipped creativity, who saw it as the ne plus ultra of humanity. But he won’t be my last subject—my list of beloved eccentrics is long. There is Lee Miller, the model, muse, and lover of Man Ray. Her style still inspires people today, and stories about her are legendary: In 1945 she was a war correspondent, and while she was traveling through war-torn Europe with the allied forces, the unit she was with found Hitler’s apartment in Munich. Craving a bath, she supposedly jumped into the Führer’s personal tub and had a longoverdue soak. Then there was the visually dramatic Luisa Casati, who was known to take her pet ocelot for walks while wearing only her fur coat and a face fully made up, including her signature kohl-lidded eyes. Other favorites include the statuesque Edith Sitwell, who stood six feet tall in brocade and turbans and jewels and was also a literary icon unafraid to spar with her male critics. And the prolific designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who combined fashion and art to startling effect and whose eponymous couture house was recently resurrected, amid great anticipation.
Marie-Laure de Noailles was the epicenter of the avant-garde in early-20th-century Paris, a bawdy and daring muse and a patron to the most important artists. Anna Piaggi, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, used her exuberant idiosyncrasies—including blue hair and colorful makeup—to draw people into the often forbidding world of fashion. And of course there is Patti Smith, who manages to be a poet, a singer, a visual artist, and a writer, all while maintaining her status as a punk icon.
While the very point of all of these people is that there is no one else like any of them, they clearly share certain things—namely, passion and strength of character. They took risks, they made choices. They embraced the tension between high and low culture, excess and decadence, minimalism and maximalism. Some were great beauties, and others were
jolies laides, but all lived life on their own terms, even when that meant flouting society’s edicts and expectations.
And it is because of them and their ilk that our boundaries, behavioral as well as aesthetic, continue to expand, as does our definition of beauty. They have paved the way for a broader acceptance, and it is our responsibility and privilege to carry forth the spirit that such eccentrics bestow upon us. As Beaton said, “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
“i always did what i wanted and never cared what anyone thought. women’s lib? i was a liberated woman long before there was a name for it.” —Peggy Guggenheim
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