Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Charles James dress
Charles James dress
I’ve been looking at all the red carpet images of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Ball this week, taking in all the amazing dresses, hair and makeup.  It was brilliant of the Metropolitan to pay homage to Charles James, America’s first couturier.  Yet, the dresses that the celebrities wore in homage to Mr. James, while beautiful, paled in comparison to his genius at construction, something we may never see again.  And it’s the same with the incomparable Diana Vreeland. I think the next Met Ball theme should pay homage to her, America’s first true fashion editor, and the woman who single-handedly revolutionized fashion, art and the Met Ball itself.  There will never be anyone like her. 

Everything she did was groundbreaking.   She recognized that it was the woman who made the clothes.  “A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere.  It’s the life you live in the dress.” She put Cher and Barbra Streisand on the cover of Vogue because they were unusual.  “The strong face comes not only from bone structure but from inner thinking,” she said.  She discovered Lauren Bacall and Veruschka.  She shot a model in the first bikini.  When her editors were afraid to print the photographs she told them “An attitude like that will hold fashion back for a thousand years”.  It’s still remarkable how ahead of the curve she was…I think we still haven’t caught up with her ideas.

Her genius, I believe, rested in the fact that she worked purely by instinct, not by education or research. For example, I love the story about the creation of the Marie Antoinette mannequin for her French Renaissance exhibit in the amazing film, The Eye Has To Travel.   At first, the artist making the installation made the wig huge, but to scale.  Vreeland wasn’t happy.  She said it was “very expected.”  He went back, and made the wig rise up to the ceiling.  “Mmmmmm!” she said happily.  “Now she is ready for the guillotine!”  She insisted that the reactions to her images or exhibits be visceral.  She wanted them to be wondered over like a child.    “You're not supposed to give the people what they want,” she once said.  “Give them what they don't know they want yet.”
That came from really having a mission.  Her vision came from a pure place.   She saw authenticity and beauty came from the core, not the surface, an idea that has resonated with me my whole life. And she took risks.  No one takes risks in fashion or media today like she did, and she proved that you have to push the envelope to move forward and grow.   You can’t be so afraid of failure that you don’t aim high.

So I think the next Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute exhibit should pay homage to woman who created it, to fully express the nuances of her life and the scope of her influence in fashion and culture.  It would be a guidebook on how to live a joyful, fulfilled life by taking chances.   “You have to create the life you want to live,” she once said to Truman Capote, and I couldn’t agree more.   Why shoot for the moon when you can have the stars? 

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