New York Magazine

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

The Divine Mrs. V


One inspired shoot was Vreeland's assignment for Norman Parkinson in Tahiti in 1965. With a team of two models and 200 pounds of gold and silver Dynel -- false plastic hair -- Parkinson was sent off with the boss's instructions: "I wish you to select the finest Arab stallion that you can find in Tahiti -- check with some Veterinarian -- and caparison him in the manner of the Grand Epoch. I want to see an illustration, as this one here, where the horse's mane and tail are plaited to the ground. Use all the Dynel you want -- you don't have to bring it back." As Parkinson later remarked, "Mrs. Vreeland was always in there punching for the impossible and the unattainable. When her ideas succeeded, they were triumphant." If not, "there were no postmortems."

The sixties also brought unwelcome change. On June 6, 1966, Reed checked into New York Hospital, and the doctors discovered that he had cancer of the esophagus. Diana didn't discuss her husband's illness with anyone. When he died on August 3, 1966, at the age of 67, she was devastated. She drew a little heart in her date book with an arrow through it.

Susan Train, then a fashion editor at Vogue, remembers seeing Vreeland when she came to Paris for the collections the following January. "She adored him, and she grieved deeply. We were at one of the couture houses. She always ordered herself two or three things. She found an evening dress she liked. The vendeuse said, 'Do you want it in black?' 'Certainly not. In red. I don't want to remind anyone that I'm in mourning. That's my business.' Although she loved black, that winter she did not have anything in black."

After Reed's death, young men like photographer David Bailey and jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane filled the void in Vreeland's life. Lane met Vreeland when he first came to New York in the mid-fifties. Lane remembers: "She made me realize the importance of positive thinking. She would say, 'Don't look back. Just go ahead. Give ideas away. Under every idea there's a new idea waiting to be born.' " Lane accompanied Vreeland to movies and parties. Vreeland, he says, "wanted youthful energy -- Halston, occasionally Jack Nicholson. She didn't want to go to Brooke Astor's dinners anymore."

Soon, there was more bad news. By the end of the sixties, the powers at Vogue were becoming more critical of Vreeland's performance. When Carrie Donovan tried to warn her boss that the businessmen at Condé Nast were finding Vreeland's editorial style too costly and her message out of touch with the times, the older editor replied, "'Oh, I'm used to it. . . . I know how to handle those men. When they get this way, you just give it to them back.'" She was wrong. In the spring of 1971, Vreeland was fired.

When they realized Vreeland was leaving, her devoted editors were distraught. Polly Mellen hid in the bathroom, weeping. "Her office had always been wonderful. When you came in to see her, there she was in the bright red office with the leopard-skin rug. . . The next morning the office was beige, the rug was beige, and Vogue was beige."

Vreeland began a frantic trip around Europe. One night, Kenny Lane joined her in the dining room at the Ritz in Madrid. As the orchestra played "Fascination," "she started to bawl," Lane recalls. "She couldn't stop. It all came out. No Reed, no job."

Money had always been a problem. After her marriage, Diana became the parent whose income could be depended on. Although Reed always worked -- in banking, in investments, for Rigaud candles, for Pucci -- his jobs didn't bring in much money. By keeping up appearances -- she clothed by Paris couturiers, Reed in Bond Street apparel, each smoking cigarettes, both using a holder -- they managed to hide their financial situation from all but their closest friends. Now Vreeland dealt with this latest financial crisis by using her ingenuity once again.

Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift