Drôle de frimousse

Diana Vreeland, the high-priestess of fashion at Vogue magazine from 1962 to 1971, was born Diana Dalziel on July 29, 1903 in Paris. Neither of her parents were French – her mother was American and her father British; Vreeland’s birth in France was really a mark of her family’s status as international socialites. The family moved to New York at the outbreak of World War I.

Diana Vreeland by Horst P. Horst.

After her marriage to banker Thomas Vreeland, the family moved to London, where she became a dancer and then opened a boutique for elegant lingerie, frequented by clients such as Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. On her frequent jaunts to Paris, Vreeland became friends with Coco Chanel. She was part of a social network that included photographer Cecil Beaton, composer Cole Porter, and writer Evelyn Waugh. The power-couple returned to New York just prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Once back in the United States, Vreeland started a completely new career as a journalist for Harper’s Bazaar where she worked closely with famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon. She became the fashion editor and produced a column entitled “Why Don’t You” marked by her caustic wit. In 1962, she moved to Vogue where she became the editor-in-chief. Her admiration propelled the careers of designers Balenciaga, Diane von Furstenberg, and shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. Jackie Kennedy turned to her for fashion advice and the Metropolitan Museum of Art consulted her for their Costume Institute. Vreeland’s signature color was red – my favorite as well – and her home and office were swathed in scarlet. She coined and personified the word pizzazz.

Cover of "Funny Face"

Her huge personality inspired interpretations of her life in films like Funny Face where Audrey Hepburn represented Vreeland and Fred Astaire represented Richard Avedon (Vreeland hated the film). In French, the film is entitled Drôle de frimousse (droll duh freemoose). Drôle means funny or amusing, just as our word “droll” in English. It’s often joined to another noun by the preposition de to underscore the relationship between the adjective and the noun. Frimousse is a colloquial term of endearment that means “little face.” It’s the sort of expression one might use to a child. As applied to Vreeland, it underscores that while she was by no means a conventional beauty, she had an arresting quality that captured people’s attention.  Vreeland died on August 22, 1989.

D.V. (autobiography)

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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1 Response to Drôle de frimousse

  1. Pingback: Un Original | One quality, the finest.

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