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Posts Tagged ‘Diana Vreeland’

Letter from Portugal: To a Portuguese Nun

September 18, 2012 | by

Around the sixth day of my trip to Portugal, I forced myself to accept the fact that I would not be returning home with vast quantities of convent-made lingerie, replete with handwork and bobbin lace. Not, I assure you, for lack of trying. When something doesn’t exist, as a hundred thousand visitors to Loch Ness will tell you, finding it makes for very tough work.

Why the obsession, you ask? Well, I will tell you. First, I happened to reread Rebecca just before we left. Do you remember when Mrs. Danvers shows the narrator Rebecca’s exquisite nightdress, folded and left waiting for her in a silk case? “Here is her nightdress … how soft and light it is, isn’t it? … They were specially made by nuns of St. Claire.” This alone would have been enough to fire my imagination: this one garment, after all, serves as a symbol of Rebecca’s unattainable perfection: delicate, beautiful, worthy not merely of the most exquisite things but of the work it entails. Somehow both ethereally pure and erotically charged. A sex goddess blessed by Brides of Christ. No wonder the nameless narrator is intimidated.

Then, flipping through D.V., I ran across the passage wherein Mrs. Vreeland describes her London lingerie atelier:

The most beautiful work was done in a Spanish convent in London, and that’s where I spent my time. There was a brief period in my life when I spent all my time in convents. I was never not on my way to see the mother superior for the afternoon. “I want it rolled!” I’d say. “I don’t want it hemmed, I want it r-r-r-rolled!”

And a conviction grew in my breast: I would return to New York with a wearable piece of the Old World. Read More »

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Immoderation: On Sharing an Idol

September 17, 2012 | by

Last year, I was given the birthday gift of a lifetime: I got to spend the occasion with Diana Vreeland. A friend, who has long been close with the Vreeland family, took me on a weeklong pilgrimage to the Marrakech home of one of Vreeland’s sons. Our hosts, aware of my longstanding obsession with Diana, settled me into what is alternately known as the “D.V. Room” and the “T.V. Room,” for it boasted a rather ancient television set that looked like it might electrocute anyone who dared near it. Above it hung the splendid William Acton portrait of Vreeland that graced the first edition of her memoir, D.V. (edited, incidentally, with gusto by Paris Review cofounder George Plimpton). The painting lovingly depicted her trademark red talons, lacquer-black hair, and the leather thong sandals she claimed to have had recreated from those donned by a slave perfectly preserved (in coitus, no less) by the ashes of Vesuvius. For Vreeland, inspiration came from the most unlikely of sources.

The local souk held countless wonders for the other houseguests, but the sprawling, glamorously disheveled Vreeland house engrossed me far more. The D.V. imprint was everywhere. First of all, nothing quite made sense—at least to the orderly, pedestrian mind. You had to resign yourself to wandering the labyrinth and surrendering to the various unexpected delights along the way, such as a turret room festooned entirely with leopard print, or a dark hidden library, filled with hundreds of Vreeland’s books, many (if not most) of which had been inscribed to her by their authors. In yet another room stood one of her famed Louis Vuitton traveling trunks, her initials D.D.V. emblazoned in imperial red ink on one side. One evening, after too many bottles of Moroccan wine, our party took a vote and elected to open it up. The candles in the room blew out as we lifted the lid. Vreeland was clearly present—and making it known that she could only tolerate so much reverential curiosity.

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Staff Picks: Bookplate Porn; Peanut Butter and Scotch

August 19, 2011 | by

I spent probably an hour paging through Martin Hopkinson’s Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates at the Strand last week, then went back and bought it. If there’s such a thing as bookplate porn, this gorgeous book is the ultimate. —Sadie Stein

I’ve been reading Robert Gottlieb’s Lives and Letters, a wonderful collection of essays on some of the century’s most illustrious figures. The portraits of the women, like Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, and Margot Fonteyn, particularly sparkle. But my favorite is the short piece on Diana Vreeland, who once said, “Peanut butter is the greatest invention since Christianity,” about her daily lunch: a whole-wheat PB-and-marmalade sandwich, with a glass of scotch. —Ali Pechman

Adam Zagajewski’s Unseen Hand came out in June, and I wish I hadn’t waited until now to read it. —Clare Fentress

Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf’s final novel, was edited by Leonard and published posthumously with his revisions. Cambridge’s new annotated edition not only restores the original draft, but also provides a rich halo of context. –Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

While a staff pick praising the work of the Review’s Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan feels a lot like Lemmy wearing a Motorhead shirt, Sullivan’s forthcoming collection of essays, Pulphead, is hands down the best thing I’ve read all year. Sullivan’s voice is straight out of bar stories, and his subjects—from Christian rockers at Creationfest to the Indiana origins of Axl Rose to proto–Tea Party protesters—line up for comic exploitation like so many fish in a barrel. But at the moment when lesser writers would pull the trigger and snigger, Sullivan steps back and asks you to understand the people he encounters on their own terms. Which is not to say the essays won’t have you laughing louder than public decency allows—because they will. But it’s their rare combination of bracing intelligence and empathy that stays with you. —Peter Conroy

My most anticipated summer film: Don’t Fear the Internet. Next step is getting cast in the sequel to the Facebook movie (a girl can dream). —Mackenzie Beer

After discovering that Netflix is streaming a handful of films by Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To, I went straight for The Heroic Trio, a kinetic superheroine flick starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung. Yes, it is that good. —Nicole Rudick

If you have a moment, try Mavis Gallant’s Granta essay on “Memory and Invention.” –S.S.

Passive-aggressive little notepad, you remind me of my fifth-grade teacher. Other than that, I have no theories as to what’s going on here. Disturbing and fun! —A.P.

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Staff Picks: Lawrence of Tell Halaf, Raging Nymphos

June 3, 2011 | by

A previously unpublished photograph of T. E. Lawrence was made available for sale this week at an auction house in Shropshire. The image, taken in 1912, shows a youthful Lawrence (in a casual coat and an oversize collar) at an archaeological dig in Tell Halaf. I took news of the photo as an excuse to thumb through Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom—an all-time favorite of mine—where I was greeted by one of my favorite passages in all of English literature: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

I was sick in bed for the long weekend and spent my time veering rather oddly between the new edition of Diana Vreeland: An Illustrated Biography by Eleanor Dwight (basically the most glorious fashion porn in existence) and M. Owen Lee’s fascinating Wagner: The Terrible Man and His Truthful Art. I like to think that Vreeland, if not Wagner, would have appreciated the combo. (And incidentally, if you haven't seen the very bizarre A Rage to Live—a 1965 vehicle about a nympho Suzanne Pleshette—it’s worth adding to your Netflix queue for your next sick day.) —Sadie Stein

Kelefa Sanneh on Earl Sweatshirt. Alec Wilkinson on the dearly departed Gil Scott Heron. —Thessaly La Force

I’m a little surprised by my own selection, as it’s not my usual fare, but when a copy of Peter Sloterdijk’s Neither Sun Nor Death appeared on my desk, I cracked it open and was hooked. He’s an appealing and exciting thinker, not least for his “leap out of old-European melancholy and the German maso-theory cartel.” —Nicole Rudick

Today, Jean-Luc Godard’s latest movie, Film Socialisme, opens in New York. I first saw the film last fall, and was mesmerized by its polylinguistic structure and “Navajo English” subtitles. I’ve been eagerly waiting since then to watch it a second time and, in preparation, have been reading Richard Brody’s insightful coverage—on the thematic and symbolic significance of the gold, and on Jewish characters and Godard’s own paranoia—revealing the film to be his “most humane, internationalist, [and] multicultural.” —Natalie Jacoby

Sara Breselor’s Idiom piece on lesbian teen fiction is poignant and funny. —S. S.

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