Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. PG. 86 min. Opens Oct. 19 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
During a series of interviews conducted a few years before she died at the age of 86 in 1989, writer George Plimpton asked the fashion-world empress how exactly one becomes Diana Vreeland. Her advice is typically quotable: “The first thing to do, my love, is to arrange to be born in Paris—after that, everything follows quite naturally.”
Evidently, this strategy does not work for everyone. Everything in this suitably chic documentary portrait—which was directed by its subject’s granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland—suggests that Vreeland was a singular creation. During her editorial tenure at both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, she popularized everything from bikinis and blue jeans to many of our most fundamental precepts about fashion and beauty.
Yet the film’s best insight is how much Vreeland’s childhood experiences amid the splendour of Paris in the 1910s would influence her later aesthetic. It’s also easy to see how these times instilled in her a lust both for life and for style, though the frank interviews with her children point to a less endearing quality: The disinterest in family life that Vreeland developed, likely due to her frosty relationship with her American socialite mother.
Then again, in the conversations with Plimpton—which are reenacted by actors for the film’s soundtrack—Vreeland has zero patience with his efforts at armchair psychoanalysis. The documentary also prefers to keep matters breezy, delivering a conventional but well-packaged summary of her achievements while shining a light on lesser-known corners of her career, like her costume exhibitions for the Metropolitan Museum in New York. As you might expect, the roster of luminaries interviewed here—including Richard Avedon, Anjelica Huston, Marisa Berenson, David Bailey, and Lauren Hutton—reads like the guest list at one of those exhibition’s ultra-glamorous opening parties. But the avowedly original and somewhat loony icon at the centre of the film still out-glams them all.