The Selfridges Diana Vreeland screening was our most extravagant lunch-break ever! Suzy Nightingale reports from an exclusive Perfume Society event
Gathered together in the world’s first department store cinema, located on the lower ground at Selfridges Oxford Street, London, the plush velvet seats of the Everyman film room began to fill with breathlessly expectant perfume-lovers and fashion fans alike. This highly extravagant lunchtime treat was organised by The Perfume Society in tandem with the wonderful people at Selfridges and Alexander Vreeland, grandson of legendary Vogue editor, style icon and star-spotter extraordinaire: the inimitable Diana Vreeland.
Nestled in opulent surroundings and chattering excitedly, the audience hushed as our own Jo Fairley introduced the wonderful documentary we were going to be seeing on the big screen – The Eye Has to Travel, surely one of the most inspirational, emotionally insightful and humorous fashion films of all time.
Piecing together archive footage and interviews with the people who knew her best, the documentary traces the career and extraordinary life of Diana Vreeland, from overlooked younger sister whom her mother constantly called ‘ugly duckling’ or ‘ugly little monster’, to the editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, the woman who spotted Lauren Bacall in the street and became trusted style-advisor to Jackie Kennedy. It’s quite a story…
Noticing the wax-paper wrapped sandwiches and tumbler of alcohol in front of us – not something we tend to be given as a snack in most cinemas, it has to be said! – Alexander explained that we were being treated to the very lunch his grandmother feasted on every single day. The lunch of champions turns out to be a marmalade sandwich and a glass of whiskey – who knew?!
Settling down we watched in awe of this incredible woman – one of those people seemingly born with an innate sense of style and what looks right, a visionary who drew the most creatively risk-taking and revolutionary people in the world to her like moths to a flame. And yet we also learned she was utterly driven to succeed, to be the very best she could be, and she expected nothing less of those who clamoured to be in her coterie of genius.
After the film, the lights came up and looking around we were thrilled to notice many familiar faces of our subscribers in the audience, who’d somehow managed to make the time to come and spend a couple of hours with us, revelling in the glorious surroundings and marvelling at the chutzpah of this incredible woman and her continuing legacy.
Jo invited the stunning 60s supermodel Penelope Tree to the front of the cinema, and together with Alexander Vreeland, they told Jo about their experiences with Diana. After spotting her at a party, she phoned the 16-year-old Penelope and demanded she came in for test shots – a potentially terrifying experience but one which Penelope remembered as entirely supportive and as relaxing as a life-changing moment can be.
It was absolutely fascinating to hear such tenderly recalled and intimate memories recounted for us lucky audience members alone, with Alexander exclaiming that ‘… she loved fragrances, she always wore them. She had a bowl of pot pourri and a pot with sand in it in which she skewered sticks of incense that were burning all the time. She even took hypodermic needles filled with fragrance and injected them into the couch and soft furnishings! It created quite an aroma, I can tell you.’
Likewise, Penelope said that Diana Vreeland was known for the incredible cloud of fragrance that constantly surrounded her: “Everyone at the Vogue offices would remark that you could smell this incredible scent; you could smell her perfume before you got anywhere near her red lacquered door!”
Alexander explained his ongoing mission to reprint all his grandmother’s wonderful books, and the different ways he is keeping her memory alive – introducing Diana Vreeland to a whole new generation, but also showing how entirely relevant her work and visionary declarations are to this very day.
The event showcased the stunning range of Diana Vreeland Perfumes, which are exclusive to Selfridges in the UK, based on scents she adored to wear herself, named after her infamous catchphrases and encased in the most glorious tasselled bottles. They truly capture the spirit of the woman who was known as ‘the Empress of fashion’.
‘I wanted to send a message of boldness and persistence – these are fragrances based on her vitality and spontaneity. The vision she had of women is still very relevant today. She was a real believer in the courageous approach and that you can do it all and be whatever beautiful means to you – you can be whatever you want to be.’
Alexander’s wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, made the documentary – a real labour of love for a woman she never actually knew. ‘This film was so transformative. Lisa never got to meet my grandmother, but she “got” her, which is a really good job or my marriage may have fallen apart! But what we really discovered through making the documentary is how incredibly loved she was, how broad her reach was – and still is.’
Upstairs in Selfridges world-famous beauty hall, Alexander took the time to personally show the Diana Vreeland Parfums collection to the eagerly-sniffing throng of people who had gathered around the counter, spritzing themselves with the very essence of the vivacious, larger-than-life woman they were inspired by. And here they are…
Selfridges says: ‘Perfumer Céline Barel was inspired by Mrs. Vreeland’s quote: ‘If it isn’t a passion, it isn’t burning, it isn’t on fire, you haven’t lived!’ to create Diana Vreeland Perfectly Marvelous. The result is unforgettable, built around a lacquered red sandalwood pimento accord. Capturing the audacious spirit of Diana Vreeland and inspired by her favourite colour, this is a passionate fragrance built around a jasmine absolute from India draped in a ‘glowing lava’ accord of lacquered red sandalwood and pimento. Heady, elegant and voluptuous, jasmine sambac lends a glossy quality to the composition while evoking utmost eroticism. Cashmeran, a musk that evokes fire, combines with a mix of spices and resins for a crackling effect.’
Selfridges says: Diana Vreeland Simply Divine by perfumer Clement Gavarry is an ode to the unique beauty and complexity of the iconic tuberose flower. ‘The fragrance authentically magnifies the opulent nectar of tuberose with its natural, green ‘crushed leaves’ freshness and a wink of nutmeg. To reveal the exceptional beauty and luminous expression of the tuberose, the majestic heart develops captivating notes of lush orange flower absolute from Tunisia and jasmine absolute from Egypt. The background enhances the mysterious and seductive signature. The depth of Indian sandalwood is softened with elegant accents of orris, Italy, enveloping cashmere woods, balsamic nuances of tonka beans and sensual musk to caress the skin in a warm veil of luxurious sensuality.’
Selfridges says: ‘Diana Vreeland Extravagance Russe by Clement Gavarry was created as an homage to Mrs. Vreeland’s love of Ambréeism. Capturing the essence of amber’s sacred and mystical note in perfumery, the fragrance goes deep into the collective olfactive memory. It maintains the original codes of amber within a contemporary structure. The scent harmoniously wraps luxurious resins and balsams with precious vanilla bourbon and musk for an enhanced impression of skin like and captivating sensuality.’
Selfridges says: ‘Diana Vreeland Absolutely Vital, created by Yves Cassar, uses the highest quality natural ingredients from LMR, IFF’s facility based in Grasse, France, to create this ode to Mrs. Vreeland’s love for India and passion for sandalwood. A mysterious and enveloping woody composition of Indian sandalwood. This precious and refined wood is wrapped in a silken floral bouquet of Turkish rose and jasmine absolute from Egypt and softened with enveloping balms of myrrh resin and opoponax resin. Finished with nuances of vanilla, the skin is caressed in a warm veil of opulent sensuality.’
Selfridges says: ‘Diana Vreeland Outrageously Vibrant is the culmination of over two years in creating a red and slightly gourmand eau de parfum. A fearless, nonconformist fragrance combining a classical Chypre structure with an unexpected twist of ‘creme de cassis’. The richness of patchouli and sophistication of the rose bouquet are contrasted with the electric, saturated and exuberant facets of cassis to create a bold, daring and contemporary trail.’ Each of the above fragrances is priced from £133 for 50ml eau de parfum.
(We were lucky enough early in the day to have breakfast with Alexander Vreeland, during which he revealed the latest fragrance in the collection – Smashingly Brilliant – which may well be THE perfect scent of summer, so watch this space for further news…)
Incredibly, 10 minutes before leaving the house, Jo had rootled through her extensive collection of vintage Vogue magazines edited by Diana Vreeland – her ultimate heroine, and in fact the very reason Jo went into the world of magazines herself – and found an issue in which Diana talks about her passion for perfume and the newly extravagant way in which she believed one should apply it. Having been ‘saved for best’ for years, Vreeland declared it was time to abandon the old rules of carefully dabbing and to douse oneself on a daily basis, whenever you desired.
Alexander was thrilled to see it, and kindly agreed to sign the copy for us – a really special moment which, along with this incredible afternoon treat, we shall treasure forever. Stepping out into the cold winter sunshine once more, swathed in our very own scented clouds of fabulousness, it was impossible to repress that unforgettable Vreeland voice, urging ‘Why Don’t You… be whoever you want to be?’
The Eye Has to Travel is available on DVD and on Netflix in the UK. You absolutely have to watch it – surrounded by opulent cushions while doused in your favourite perfume, of course – and we assure you that one viewing is never enough.
Diana Vreeland, we may not eat marmalade sandwiches and drink whiskey for lunch every day (probably best not), but my goodness, you created your very own kind of beautiful, and we salute you.