“Our cover situation is drastic…We are on the verge of a drastic emergency.” So reads the first entry in the latest Diana Vreeland tome, Memos: The Vogue Years. Compiled by Vreeland’s grandson Alexander (the husband of Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who directed The Eye Has to Travel), the book features more than 250 of Vreeland’s infamous notes from her time at Vogue, which she’d dictate over the phone to her secretary while puffing on cigarettes in a wicker chair in the bathroom of her Park Avenue apartment. This, Alexander told us, was her preferred mode of communication. “She didn’t believe in meetings,” he said. His assertion is backed up by Diana’s memo to the Vogue team on page fifty-nine, in which she considers holding a meeting about the “controversial” topic of dress lengths, but resolves, “Usually, when we have meetings, we don’t get ideas and views from people.”
But it wasn’t just her staff whom she’d confront about everything from the importance of pearls and bangles to her annoyance with the mistreatment of her initials in her editor’s letter (above), to the necessity that Vogue‘s spreads “never, ever copy…any kind of coiffure that is reminiscent of the 30s, 40s, 50s,” via her rapier dictations. The book—which is available now from Rizzoli—also includes her correspondences with the likes of Richard (or Dick, as she called him) Avedon, Irving Penn (to whom she complains about lackluster tulips), Cecil Beaton, Cristobal Balenciaga (above), Halston, Veruschka, and beyond.
“These memos and letters give a really good sense of how she used to speak,” offered Alexander (so does her fantastically hyperbolic memoir, D.V., which we highly recommend). “She was very elegant, and she was not this loudmouth person who was just coming up with these funny sayings about fashion that we all love. She was running a major magazine, and she was very precise.”
Not only was she running a major magazine, she transformed a tired little social publication into a leading voice in fashion. Her resounding influence—on the magazine, the industry, and culture as a whole—is detailed in anecdotes by former co-workers like Polly Mellen, Felicity Clark, and Susan Train.
“I think my grandmother is still relevant today to a new generation of people who have a real passion for fashion, style, and living,” said Alexander. “This is an opportunity for people to hear her in her own words.” Indeed, Vreeland’s razor-sharp eye, embrace of the new, and poignant insights can teach today’s fashion folk a thing or two. And in addition to Memos, Vreeland will be introduced to anyone walking down 58th Street in New York via Bergdorf Goodman’s new window installation. On view through the end of October, the display showcases the tome’s most memorable excerpts (both serious and hysterical), Fall ’13 ensembles that no doubt would have been Vreeland-approved, and images of the late, great editor in chief.