We’ve all used the word, but what does it really mean? Webster defines it as “amazing, wonderful” and then lists “exaggerated; overstated, embellished” and “extreme; beyond reason and convention” as secondary definitions.
Then it’s settled: Diana Vreeland was fabulous.
Born in Paris to a mother who found her “rather ugly” and a father who demanded an English approach to the showing of emotion, Ms. Vreeland (nee: Dalziel) was born in Paris (which she loved) and raised in the Rockies (which she loathed). When she moved to New York with her family, she took up dance both onstage (Carnegie Hall) and off (speakeasy floors). Guess which one she claimed to enjoy most?
She decided “to become the most popular girl in the world” and developed a reputation for being fast–”I rather enjoyed the company of Mexican and Argentinian men who loved to dance as much as I did,” she said– and fun. Things slowed down in the man department when she met Thomas Reed Vreeland and found him to be ”the most beautiful man in the world.” Better yet, he helped to calm her own insecurities about her looks. “He made me feel beautiful,” she said. The two were married quickly which she found “Fabulous, of course. It was love at first sight, and that was romantic. All things that were romantic were just wonderful,” she said.
Still, while other brides settled down, days full of pie-making and sewing were not penciled into her life plan. This seemed to go over well with her new husband. He appreciated her joie de vivre and encouraged it. Good thing because it led to her discovery and wound up benefiting generations to come.
One night, the newly married, self-professed “lazy girl” hit the town and found herself dancing on the rooftop of the St. Regis hotel in her white lace Chanel dress and bolero (and roses in her hair, natch). She was making a scene in her usual way and caught the eye of Harper’s Bazaar editor, Carmel Snow. Snow admired her unusual fashion sense and brought her on-staff. Vreeland started “Why Don’t You…” a decadent advice column that suggested things like wearing diamonds in your hair and velvet gloves everywhere. Note: She is credited with coining the word “pizzazz” in that series.
When the war hit, the column seemed ridiculous, but Snow had more in store for Vreeland and annointed her the first fashion editor-ever. It was a brilliant move, one that changed the face of fashion editorial forever. With her near psychic ability to see what readers, designers and fashionistas would covet long before they themselves knew, Mrs. Vreeland was a force in the world of design and rocked editorial like no one before (or after) her. Vivacious and sharp–she discovered Lauren Bacall, Twiggy and convinced Manolo Blahnik to design shoes–she believed in infusing all things–even gloom–with something glamorous. “Don’t tell a story if it’s boring, even if it’s true,” she would say. “A lie to get out of something, or take an advantage for oneself, that’s one thing; but a lie to make life more interesting—well, that’s entirely different.”
While she admitted to exaggerating “everything,” from her fashion to her fireside, champagne-soaked tales, there’s no denying her incredible talent for fashion, editorial, and and life. She was exactly the kind of woman I fall madly in love with: Smart, successful, glamorous, romantic and totally independent. I would have loved to have sat with her and just listened to her speak. I imagine she’d give me fantastic insight, such as this wonderful piece of advice.
“There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself.”
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