Diana Vreeland: Living The Brand

Few people embody the spirit of bringing their brand to brilliant life than legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Her career is profiled in the documentary The Eye Has to Travel. But how can a life in fashion guide us to building a brand?

In 1936, Vreeland was hired as the fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar, a position she would hold for 25 years before being named the editor-in-chief at Vogue. At 70, after being suddenly fired from Vogue and disdainful of the idea of retirement, she became a special consultant to The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until she died in 1989.

In her eponymous book DV, Vreeland writes “It’s not about the dress you wear, but it’s about the life you lead in the dress.” What are some things companies can learn from Vreeland about brilliantly living your brand?

Be real. Vreeland herself was genuine and distinctive… and knew the secret to success was to understand your true self. As her daughter-in-law notes “Whatever was real was what she was ultimately striving for. She was always looking at the layer underneath everything, even if that layer contained faults. For her, it was about the depth of a person that counted. She, of course, understood what real beauty was.“

Show your smarts. Although not formally educated, Vreeland had a brilliant and inquisitive mind that absorbed and processed huge volumes of social and visual information every day, turning her curiosity into big ideas. These ideas ranged from broad proclamations that inspired fashion – “Pink is the navy blue of India!” to her monthly Vogue column Why Don’t You that shared dozens of provocative ideas that inspired American women to look at fashion and their lives differently. As she herself said “I’m terrible on facts. But I always have an idea. If you have an idea, you’re well ahead!“

Give and get. Vreeland was renowned for the way she took up-and-coming artists and transformed them into society stars, understanding that their success was hers, as well. A letter to a young designer named Diane von Furstenberg noted “We hope to do something nice for you. Do you need any help with stores?”

Never give up. Vreeland’s personality, outlook and fashion sense evolved with the times, but remained rooted in the same paradigms. Her iconic look for pulled-back hair, red lips and dramatic clothing embraced new designers, but remained consistently Vreeland. The result was stunning, memorable, and flowed into all the work she did. The brand she created was so powerful that, when she left Vogue, an assistant editor noted “[the day she left] the carpet turned beige and so did Vogue.”

The iconic Vreeland look has been updated into a brand system by MODCo for the Vreeland family for the documentary about her, as well as future projects.

The Eye Has to Travel, Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s film chronicling Diana Vreeland’s fifty year reign as the “Empress of Fashion,” is on DVD.

Vreeland once said “You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive. ” The same could be said of her.

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