In Search of Allure: The Quotable Diana Vreeland


In the new foreword for Chronicle Books’ recent reissue of Diana Vreeland’s Allure, fashion designer Marc Jacobs writes, “I think no one has ever been like her. There have been many strong characters, but there’s never been another Diana Vreeland.” The book, which is a collection of images that inspired the famed fashion editor, alongside her commentary, which was tape recorded over the three years it took to put the collection together, gives readers an intimate glimpse into Vreeland’s brilliant mind. Thanks to her bizarre way with words — which her collaborator, Christopher Hemphill, attributes to an early childhood in Paris — it’s a beautiful tome on style that’s also immensely entertaining.

According to Hemphill’s original intro, after settling on the book’s title, Vreeland defined the concept of “allure” as something that holds you. She later amended that statement: “Now I think it’s something around you like a perfume or like a scent. It’s like memory… it pervades.” The photographs gathered in Allure — whether images of Maria Callas or plastic surgery — all have that quality, and are proof of what Jacobs says he loves most about Vreeland: Her appreciation for unconventional beauty and “almost perverse passion for things that weren’t common or typical.” (Or, as he adds conversely, her “passion for something exactly because it was so very common and typical.”) It’s this unique point of view that made her a legend.

Click through for a selection of some of our favorite quotes and images from the book.

Martin Munkacsi, Greta Garbo on vacation, 1932

“If you knew Garbo, if you’d ever been to a Garbo dinner, meaning you’re three or five at the most… but don’t let me go grand on you. I’m only talking about the way she holds her mouth when she’s talking to you. I can’t say what it she does. If could say it, I could do it myself.”

“Never say ‘I’! Always say we.”

“Does anyone read a picture book from the beginning? I don’t. That’s one reason I think the Japanese are so smart — it’s instinctive to start at the end.”

“Everyone is ga-ga on names today. That’s why the paparazzi have taken over. People can’t get over other people.”

Sir Cecil Beaton, Marjorie Wilson, 1940s

“Cecil’s pictures have opalescence — the quality emanating from an opal, the feeling of being inside an opal.”

“I don’t want to sound like someone who remembers 1911 that clearly. But of course, one’s childhood memories remain the most vivid. And I was born in Paris at such an extraordinary time. I saw the whole beginning of this century.”

“Everything I know about walking comes from watching Ziegfield’s girls.”

“There’s nothing better-looking than a good-looking Russian woman.”

Sir Cecil Beaton, Edith Sitwell, 1920s.

“The two greatest mannequins of the century were Gertrude Stein and Edith Sitwell — unquestionably. You just couldn’t take a bad picture of those two old girls.”

“Then at Vogue… I really went to town! I put legs and arms and heads and everything else together… to give the perfect whole. And I was the world’s greatest retoucher. A girl moving looked the way I’d retouched her standing still. I never took out fewer than two ribs.”

“I remember Elliott Erwitt did some pictures for us of an eye-lift operation. That was a scene. The pictures were shown to various members of the staff. One left immediately to throw up, others were gagging and carrying on, others… these were professional women working on a woman’s magazine, you understand — not a gaggle of housewives. It was un-believable!”

Sir Cecil Beaton, Marilyn Monroe, 1950s.

“Marilyn Monroe! She was a geisha. She was born to give pleasure, spent her whole life giving it — and knew no other way.”

“Everything is in the hands. I have something of a fetish about them.”

“When I see diamonds in a north light, on a little velvet pillow… I die.”

“Performance is all I cared about as a child and it’s all I care about now. I don’t got to a play to see a great play, I got to see a great interpreter. Everything is interpretation. I think stars are the only thing we have. We have a star, we follow a star… we may throw that star out tomorrow, but today, without a star, we wouldn’t move at all. Group formation’s not for me.”

Sir Cecil Beaton, Mick Jagger, 1969.

“Just as Mick Jagger, for me, was the creature of the sixties, [Brigitte] Bardot was the creature of the fifties. She prepared the way for the sixties and made the sixties alluring rather than just ugly. Her lips made Mick Jagger’s lips possible.”

“I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.”

“A nose without strength is a pretty poor performance. It’s the one thing you hold against someone today. If you’re born with too small a nose, the one thing you want to do is build it up.”

“There’s the madness that only madmen know and there’s the laughter that only Italians know. This is what Italians gave the world.”

Camilla McGrath, Rudolph Nureyev at Spoleto, 1964

“A dancer’s life must be the most exalting thing in the world — and the most excruciating. But, to have performed one arc of the arm, one moment of beauty, one something…”

“I see all sorts of things that you don’t see. I see girls and I see the way their feet fall off the sidewalk when they’re getting ready to cross the street but they’re waiting for the light, with their marvelous hair blowing in the wind and their fatigued eyes…”

“The avante-garde, of course, is what’s so desperately lacking today —all know that.”

“I don’t think an arty photographer can do close-ups. Only the paparazzi can do close-ups — and Irving Penn.”

Sir Cecil Beaton, Audrey Hepburn, 1950s.

“Elegance is refusal.”

“Gotta sell, gotta sell… all my life I’ve heard what photographers could do if we’d only let them, if they didn’t have to sell. Well, now they can.”

“Most people are totally… looking into themselves. Chanel wasn’t. She was the only real visionary that fashion has ever had. She was the most interesting person I’ve ever known.”

“Fashion is a passing thing — a thing of fancy, fantasy, and feeling. Elegance is innate. It has nothing to do with being well-dressed. It’s a quality possessed by certain thought and certain animals. Gazelles, I suppose, have elegance with their tiny heads and their satiny coats and their little winning ways…”