50 Shades (Quotes) of Diana Vreeland


Everybody wants their life to be like Diana Vreeland's. Heck, even Diana Vreeland wanted her life to be like Diana Vreeland's. Before fashion editors became personalities/street-style stars/fodder for major motion pictures, there was the imminently quotable, largely self-invented and always fascinating Mrs. Vreeland, whose life took her from Belle Epoque Paris to Studio 54, whose friendships ranged from Coco Chanel and Wallis Simpson to Andy Warhol and Jack Nicholson, and whose imagination and keen eye propelled the pages of Harper's Bazaar (1936-1962) and Vogue (1962-1971) into the future and revolutionized the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute (1971-1989). Today, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel hits theaters in NY and LA to a collective sigh of it's about time: the documentary chronicles her wild, inspiring life full of vim, vigor, and what D.V. called "Faction" (as in both fact and fiction, because, as she once explained, "why not make a story more interesting?").

“There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself,” Vreeland famously said. And she devoted herself to this infectious, all-encompassing idea that you could make yourself as interesting—as fabulous—as you wanted. Why be boring? She also, luckily for us, never seemed to say anything that didn't qualify as a perfect (not to mention totally Tweetable!!) little life quote.

In honor of the film—and in case the only offering at your local cinema is Finding Nemo 3D—we spent days pouring over both her 1984 memoir D.V. (as told to George Plimpton) and Visionaire 37: The Vreeland Memos to pick out 50 of her best zingers. Below, presented in no particular order (and in some cases, condensed by ITG), the D.V. 50:

(P.S. If we left any good ones out, holler at us! We tried to keep things fresh.)

1 “Unshined shoes are the end of civilization.”

2 “You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.”

3 “Of course, one is born with good taste. It’s very hard to acquire. You can acquire the patina of taste."

4 “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”

5 “The first rule that a geisha is taught, at the age of nine, is to be charming to other women...Every girl in the world should have geisha training.”

6 “Where Chanel came from in France is anyone’s guess. She said one thing one day and another thing the next. She was a peasant—and a genius. Peasants and geniuses are the only people who count and she was both.”

7 “You know the greatest thing is passion, without it what have you got? I mean if you love someone you can love them as much as you can love them but if it isn’t a passion, it isn’t burning, it isn’t on fire, you haven’t lived.”

8 “There’s no such thing as a slack French face. Haven’t you ever noticed that? I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think it’s because the French have to exercise their jaws and the inside of their mouths so much just to get the words out. The vowels demand so much.”

9 “I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me—projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted.”

10 “Style—all who have it share one thing: originality.”

11 “There’s only one thing in life, and that’s the continual renewal of inspiration.”

12 “Unfortunately, Hungarians don’t impress the world anymore—they’ve never been successful, and success is the only thing the world we live in now understands and remembers.”

13 “Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.”

14 “Balenciaga often said that women did not have to be perfect or beautiful to wear his clothes. When they wore his clothes, they became beautiful."

15 “One never knew what one was going to see at a Balenciaga opening. One fainted. It was possible to blow up and die.” [ed. note: it's also possible for the seating to malfunction and leave you standing for the duration of a presentation.]

16 “I think when you’re young you should be a lot with yourself and your sufferings. Then one day you get out where the sun shines and the rain rains and the snow snows and it all comes together.”

17 “Prohibition. Insane idea. Try to keep me from taking a swallow of this tea and I’ll drink the whole pot.”

18 “Still, my dream in life is to come home and think of absolutely nothing. After all, you can’t think all the time.

19 “If you think all the time every day of your life, you might as well kill yourself today and be happier tomorrow.”

20 “I adore artifice. I always have.”

21 “‘Worse things happen at sea.’ That was [my father’s] great expression. It summed up any unpleasantness.”

22 “...Don’t think you were born too late. Everyone has that illusion. But you aren’t. The only problem is if you think too late."

23 “Everything is new. At least everything is new the first time around.”

24 “I was always fascinated by the absurdities and luxuries and the snobbism of the world that fashion magazines showed. Of course, it’s not for everyone...But I lived in that world, not only during my years in the magazines business but for years before, because I was always of that world-- at least in my imagination.”

25 “The West is boring itself to death! And talking itself to death!”

26 “You can’t say ‘My masseur told me this.’ And then again, why can’t you?”

27 “I’d like to have been Elizabeth the First. She was wonderful. She surrounded herself with poets and writers, lived at Hampton Court, and drove that little team of spotted ponies with long tails....She’s at the top of my list. I loved the clothes. It took her four hours to dress—we have a lot in common!”

28 “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from maids in my life.”

29 “Where would fashion be without literature?”

30 “Oh, the ‘Why Don’t You,’ column first appeared in 1936 [in Harper's Bazaar]. ‘For a coat to put on after skiing, get yourself an Italian driver’s, of red-orange lined in dark green.’ That was one of them. ‘Have a furry elk-kid trunk for the back of your car.’ They were all very tried and true ideas, mind you. ‘Knit yourself a little skullcap. Turn your old ermine coat into a bathrobe... ‘Wash your blond child’s hair in dead champagne, as they do in France.’”

31 “Oh, but I think that thoughtfulness and manners are everything.”

32 “All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, ‘I want rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple’—they have no idea what I’m talking about. About the best red is to copy the color of a child’s cap in any Renaissance portrait.”

33 “Lighting is everything in a color.”

34 “Black is the hardest color in the world to get right—except for gray...”

35 “This story went around about me: Apparently I’d wanted a billiard-table green background for a picture. So the photographer went out and took the picture. I didn’t like it. He went out and took it again and I still didn’t like it. ‘I asked for billiard-table green!’ I’m supposed to have said. ‘But this is a billiard table, Mrs. Vreeland,’ the photographer replied. ‘My dear,’ I apparently said, ‘I meant the idea of billiard-table green.’”

36 “When I arrived in America, I had these very dark red nails which some people objected to, but then some people object to absolutely everything.”

37 “Vogue always did stand for people’s lives. I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later."

38 “She was just putting on the ritz, keeping things up. Why say you were born in a hovel? Who wants to hear that?”

39 “In my leisure time I appear rather... impractical. But I do think that I’ve made a practical woman out of myself. You can’t have worked the number of years I have, through hell or high water, without being basically practical.”

40 “You’re really on a dead horse. Don’t you love that phrase? A friend of mine and I once got out of a movie house across from Bloomingdale’s, and we stepped into a taxi standing there at curbside. A guy leaned in the back window and said, ‘Hey, you’re on a dead horse. No driver.’ We looked and sure enough there wasn’t anybody in the front seat. Heaven knows where he was. In the movie house? Perhaps he was off having a hamburger.”

41 “To be contented—that’s for the cows.”

42 “Power has got to be the most intoxicating thing in the world—and of all forms of power the most intoxicating is fame.”

43 “I was the most economical thing that ever happened to the Hearst Corporation. Perhaps they loved me because I never knew how to get any money out of them.”

44 “Truth is a hell of a big point with me. Now I exaggerate—always."

45 “A lie to get out of something, or take an advantage for oneself, that’s one thing; but a lie to make life more interesting—well, that’s entirely different.”

46 “I always say I hope to God I die in a town with a good tailor, a good shoemaker, and perhaps someone who’s interested in a little quelque chose d’autre.”

47 “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.”

48 “One thing I hold against Americans is that they have no flair for the rain. They seem unsettled by it; it’s against them: they take it as an assault, an inconvenience! But rain is so wonderfully cleansing, so refreshing, so calming...”

49 “I have a terrible time remembering exactly when my birthday is. Age is totally boring...”

50 “The best time to leave a party is when the party’s just beginning. There’s no drink that kills except the drink that you didn’t want to take, as the saying goes, and there’s no hour that kills except the hour you stayed after you wanted to go home.”

Images from the book The Eye Has to Travel.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Elizabeth

    Absolutely love this! Great post.

  • Dianna

    Sublime! great work guys. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into Diana's world

  • VotreAmie

    What a fabulous start to a Friday, reading all of these!!

  • charlotte bentley

    Can't wait to see the documentary on Sunday. My grandmother was a makeup artist and worked with Diana quite a bit. She always wrote her personal letters thanking her. She was so immaculate - my grandmother said she thought the bottom of your shoes should be polished.


    Vreeland was the Beyonce of her day.


    • carter

      That is the most ridiculous thing I've read in a dog's age.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002138818239 Klhn Narcisse

        It was a compliment

    • Crossedlegs

      if beyonce had ever told us anything honest about herself, or tried to guide us in any way to great style, this would make sense. unfortunately, beyonce is loathe to let us get to know her in any way, and doesn't really add anything to any conversation because of it, so please keep that quote to yourself from now on. dv is an actual icon, beyonce sings songs sometimes and hides out the rest of the time. goodnight.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002138818239 Klhn Narcisse

        It was a compliment, someone was relating...

        • Mark Johnson

          Narcisse!!! Oh my dear sweet Narcisse, you added an explanation this time!! Bless your heart, wasn't that thoughtful of you!

          Well, it's a good thing it wasn't a joke, wasn't it sweetheart! Can you tell me why honey, or is this a little too confusing? Here's a hint: sometimes comics use them to rebound from a joke that bombs (that means no one laughs). It's an _________________. Here's another hint: it's the biggest word in my post. This one.

  • Kitchen Afternoon

    I didn't read them all, I am doling them out for the weekend! I am cloistered all weekend with book proposal, and
    DV will be my breaks. thanks!
    Did you know DV owned a giant diamond that once belinged to Eleanor of Aquitaine?

  • TinaOurWonderLust

    Wow, great article. I especially like the second quote. I am going to add it to my quotes (HOOT): http://www.ourwonderlust.com/ourwonderlust/category/hoot
    Thank you for sharing! What a prolific woman!

  • Lexyrose boiardo

    i read this book years ago and have re-read it countless times. it's diana vreeland's autobiography. i underlined countless quotes. a favorite that still sticks out and that comes to mind all the time, "Never fear being vulgar, just boring. — Diana Vreeland

    • ITGAlessandra

      I LOVE that. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/pearlscaramel Pearls and Caramel

    Very inspiring post. Thanks for sharing. What a colorful woman she was!

  • RGheissari

    Reading this has definitely improved my day! Thanks for pulling these quotes together.

  • Dulaneyalison

    Amazing, her words are so powerful!

  • http://www.daulbe.com/ Daul Be

    I ADORE DIANA VREELAND! I've literally been going to Angelika Cinema Theater everyday after work in the past week to watch her documentary because it's not out on DVD yet. She's a visionaire, a legend! Long live Mrs. Vreeland <3

  • Abeberman

    Looking for the quote about warren Beatty

  • Anna

    Love the quotes. Thanks! <3

  • Luke Hedley

    "Eccentric is a word that Boring people use to describe someone I think of as interesting" "A great many people think of me as eccentric simply
    because when I have my shoes polished I have the Entire shoe polished, tops, sides & soles"
    "when I told Truman (Capote) I had my maid iron my money, here's what he didn't say 'How Eccentric' here's what He did say...'How Wonderful!' "
    "You can forgive a person a lot, who Really enjoys You!"

    • Mayfair V

      She is one of my style icons, she had style until her last moments.

  • Margot

    Diana Vreeland's wisdom and style are timeless. To understand true style, not just fashion trends, one must understand the history of fashion. There is a big difference between the "it girl" of a fleeting moment and the "it girl" of a decade.

    • Jordan Blake

      50 upvotes for this alone! Diana Vreeland's life is something to be studied by feminists, fashionistas, fans of the 1970s and followers of the annual New York Met Gala. The Eye Has To Travel is one of my favorite documentaries. Lynn Steward's Dana McGarry series, originally written for TV in the vein of Mad Men, is also high on my list because it is a character-driven tale interweaving iconic women and historic places and events set in 1970s New York.

  • Victoria

    Diana Vreeland is my fav. fashion icon
    I learned so much from her!
    B.T.W. I'm loving her quotes