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Venetian Finds: Diana Vreeland Exhibit Opens in Venice

A retrospective look at the late editor's style went on display at the Palazzo Fortuny.

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Diana Vreeland
Diana Vreeland

A view of the Diana Vreeland exhibit.

Photo By Andrea Delbo’

Diana Vreeland

A view of the Diana Vreeland exhibit.

Photo By Andrea Delbo’

Diana Vreeland

A view of the Diana Vreeland exhibit.

Photo By Andrea Delbo’

Precious green designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Paco Rabanne and Irene Galitzine stand near an 18th-century green corseted gown worn by a mannequin whose head is clad in a green veil, all in a glass cabinet against a backdrop of exquisite fabrics and paintings at the 15th-century Palazzo Fortuny in Venice.

Green and Venice were only two of Diana Vreeland’s “obsessions,” which are retraced in “Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland,” an exhibition that opened over the weekend and will run through June 25. It is the first major show dedicated to the legendary fashion editor, and one that was not conceived as a retrospective but as a critical snapshot of Vreeland’s work.

“Venice was an obsession, she was passionate about this city, and there are strong parallels with [artist] Mariano Fortuny — they were both visionaries and this is the ideal location, an evocative place,” said Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the late editor’s granddaughter-in-law, who also directed and produced a documentary and a coffee-table book on Vreeland. Immordino Vreeland is married to Alexander Vreeland, the grandson of the fashion editor who shaped the history of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue from the Forties to the Seventies and later became a special consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute until her death in 1989.

“Her work speaks for herself, but this is not about nostalgia. She used to say she hated nostalgia, and this is about life, about the dream and fantasy, and about the imagination,” said Immordino Vreeland, whose film made its debut at the Venice Film Festival in September 2011 and will be in theaters this September.

Alexander Vreeland said he was “so proud. It’s wonderful to see my grandmother, 23 years after [her death], is still being looked to in such a curatorial manner. There is a great respect for her body of work.” He noted how his grandmother “made the relation between fashion and art possible. This is standing on her shoulders. For important fashion to be seen in a museum, she forged that territory. And it’s often the most lucrative part of a museum.”

Vreeland said famed perfumer Frédéric Malle created a sandalwood fragrance to be sprayed at the Fortuny museum — a reference to the editor’s passion for scents.

Judith Clark, curator of the exhibition with Maria Luisa Frisa, said she took recurring Vreeland passions and turned them into “narrative, which becomes of prime importance.” Hence the Russian cabinet, with an Yves Saint Laurent green coat and a beaded red and black look from his Russian collection flanked by historic Russian pieces, or a Leon Bakst costume for “La Bayadère” ballet dated 1912 near an early Eighties-era Valentino red and black dress with pagoda collar, a nod to her love of the Far East. Missoni and Emilio Pucci dresses stand on a platform next to a horse mannequin covered in a white veil — a reference to the expansive theatrical decorations at the entrance of Vreeland’s exhibitions at the Met.

“Can we put a Chanel on a lacquer purple mannequin? Today it’s hardly noteworthy, we now understand intuitively, but at the time, fashion exhibitions were slaves to historical reproductions,” said Clark. “Let’s add pizzazz to a museum. She did that in a way that can be decoded, with intense styling, lightness of touch and glamorizing of things.” The garments are shown here in Italy for the first time, several belonging to Vreeland and others loaned by the Met or private collections and company archives, together with magazines and books curated by Vreeland and portraits of the editor by Cecil Beaton and Christian Bérard.

Rosita Missoni, spotted at the exhibition, said Vreeland “was our fairy godmother,” crediting her for the brand’s introduction in the U.S. “I remember her twirling one of our wraps and exclaiming: “Who says there are five colors? There are tones!”