I've just finished reading Amanda Mackenzie Stuart's biography of Diana Vreeland (upon Justine Picardie's recommendation), a far more complete and astute rendering of Vreeland's career, attitude and life, than Vreeland's own self-voiced D.V. or Allure. There's so much forward-before-her-time thinking that can be deduced from Vreeland's career, all of which feels so pertinent now when we're faced with a seemingly barren or static moment in fashion. One such innovation was getting the "eye to travel", commissioning the most fantastical and far-flung shoots during her tenure as editor-in-chief at Vogue between 1963 and 1971, where money was no object and jet travel was beginning to open up to the public. These were shoots from Vreeland's dreams though, where she saw no need for reflecting hardlined cultural accuracy but instead fantasised about the most positive, wondrous and adventurous elements of her locations from Ayers Rock in Australia to Hokkaido in Japan, and married them up with fashion to present something conjured up in her head.
Boring geographical borders and dull historical facts were not the point when it came to the wilder shores of the East. What Diana wanted on the pages of Vogue was the Orient of her inner eye, an Orientalist fantasy.
Coincidentally, I've just received the A/W 13-4 lookbook from pyjama darling Olivia von Halle, presenting a highly stylised and lavish Shanghai setting (it was shot in the iconic Peace Hotel) that would perhaps have pleased Vreeland. What we take for granted now as de rigeur in editorial and lookbook shoots now seem like a pastiche and warrants querying and questioning. Remember when I investigated the idea of high fashion Chinoiserie after the Rodarte and Louis Vuitton collections of S/S 11? My stance since then has mellowed somewhat into a relaxed acceptance that every culture, ethnicity and locale has been appropriated and re-interpreted so that the eye now travels constantly. Every cliche has been explored.
And sometimes that visual language is rich enough to support the idea of hauling out those cultural cliches in fashion in the context of a harmless image, one that we, the reader is unlikely to take literally. And so we have a pair of China Dolls hamming it up by lounging on lacquer furniture, mixing silk PJ's and robes with Prada and Marni, crystals with jade, Aperlai shoes with Guizhou embroidery and fans with furs. The styling is conceived by none other than my other doppelganger Leaf Greener, fashion editor of Elle (I don't mind getting mixed up with this style maven though who I invariably get outfit envy over), whose own Chinese background somewhat gives sanction to this sumptuous mix. Try as you might to bring in misdemeanous of colonialism, Orientalism and cultural stereptyping but what remains is an image that endurses, inspires and ultimately can intelligently be taken with a pinch of salt. Huffy over analysis when it comes to political correctness in fashion is something of a fruitless task. That same probing analysis also gave way to Vreeland's own supposedly out-of-step downfall when the 1970s feminist dialogue permeated and critiqued her view on fashion, when she was actually ahead of her time and advocating a "Do whatever" attitude in fashion in the late 1960s, which dictates the landscape again today as the onset of the internet has partially facilitated that freedom. On Vreeland's departure from Vogue, Mackenzie Stuart addresses the mistiming of her ideal.
As feminism took hold, Vogue's readers began to think differently about identity, Diana's attachment to her romantic ideal of female power made her inflexible. A view of fashion as a means of self-expression, as ludic, creative and empowering, would, of course, eventually resurface strongly alongside other late twentieth-century ideas about female identity, but that time was some way off. For the time being Diana and the Girl were in Vogue's way; and a short time later they were both gone.
P.S. I happen to be bunged-up and flu-ridden today and the idea of lounging around in silk crepe de chine PJ's in jewel tones is an infinitely more appealing alternative to sneezing in my grotty t-shirts and Steve's flannel bottoms.