Alexander Vreeland interview: Diana's grandson on growing up with a legend, and how to curate a lifetime's fashion legacy

Vreeland worked for Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani before taking over the administrative duties of his grandmother’s estate, launching a perfume line, and collaborating on The Eye has to Travel, a documentary about her life

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When you were growing up, did you realise that your grandmother was in any way extraordinary – or did you think all grandparents were like her?

It's a bit of both. My mother's parents got divorced when she was a small child. So I ended up having three sets of grandparents. And I knew Diana was very different from the other two, so it wasn't as if I wasn't aware of it at all. But you know, you can't tell at the time if there will be any legacy to her work. It's always easy with hindsight to say "oh it was obvious". It was definitely obvious that she was special but I don't think there was a sense of relevance –she is a lot more relevant now than the day she died.

It's interesting you say that, as a number of fashion designers referenced Diana in their winter 2015 shows. What do you think is her lasting appeal?

Well there are not many heroes and legends in the fashion industry, and so I think that when there is one, we celebrate it – John Fairchild [former publisher and editor-in-chief of Women's Wear Daily] said that the two most important women in fashion in the twentieth century were Coco Chanel and Diana Vreeland.

Is that part of your role – as a guardian and also promoter of your grandmother's work to people who may not have heard of her?

Yes, without a doubt. I think that's why I launched the fragrance line. After seeing the amount of people who were turned on and excited by my wife's documentary about my grandmother, The Eye Has To Travel, which came out in 2011, I was surprised. The audience was far broader and her relevance had a far greater reach than we all thought.

Your book, Diana Vreeland: The Modern Woman, focuses on her years at Harper's Bazaar (1936-1962). Why choose that period – does it differ from her later time at Vogue, where she eventually became editor-in-chief?

First of all, I think that I wanted to go to great pains to credit Alexey Brodovitch [the magazine's art director] and Carmel Snow [editor-in-chief] for those Harper's Bazaar years… When my grandmother first went there it was already a dominant fashion magazine. I also felt that my grandmother's legacy is so powerful that there is no reason to steal thunder from anybody. I think in terms of her visual perspective, Bazaar was some of her most important years. To put it in to context, she went to Vogue at the age of 60 and was at The Met in her seventies. We live in a culture where, if you haven't achieved life goals by the time you're 30, then you'll never get there. Whereas she was somebody who saw life up until the age of 60 as a warm-up.

Its very interesting comparing the two books: The Modern Woman is her story visually and your other book, Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years (2013) is her story in words.

The fun thing about the memos is that they are all dictated, and that's sort of part of the obligation I feel in working on this fragrance collection, I think that what we have to do is be sure that everything is in her voice. The fragrance has to be the same as her perfectly dictated letters.

What would you say Diana Vreeland's legacy is?

She was at Bazaar for 26 years, that's a long time to be a fashion editor in one place. But she had this remarkable creativity – she kept coming up with new ideas. That's really huge. Most people run out of ideas, you know. She didn't.

Biography

Alexander Vreeland, 60, is the grandson of Diana Vreeland. He worked for Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani before taking over the administrative duties of his grandmother’s estate, launching a perfume line, and collaborating on 2011’s ‘The Eye has to Travel’, a documentary about her life. He is editor of ‘Diana Vreeland: The Modern Woman’, which will be published on 13 October by Rizzoli

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