Alexander Vreeland on his legendary grandmother
Alexander Vreeland ran communications for Ralph Lauren and sales and marketing for Giorgio Armani, but it’s ancestry that has determined his fashion fate. The grandson of legendary magazine editor Diana Vreeland, Alexander was tasked with administering her estate. In that work, he found boundless affection and fascination from generations of fashionistas toward the woman who advised first lady Jacqueline Kennedy — and the rest of the country — on how to dress. Alexander recently launched Diana Vreeland Parfums, a collection of fragrances sold at select Neiman Marcus. He will be at the Copley Place store at 2 p.m. on Saturday to share stories and show fans how he attempted to capture an icon.
Q. There are very few heroes and legends in the fashion industry. How did you know your grandmother was one of them?
A. Five years ago, I took over her estate. The most important thing to do was work on the communication of who she was and see if there was still relevance to her. What came out of that was the book “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” and the documentary [of the same name]. Through that and the later “Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years,” we discovered there is a huge following. She is a constant reference. I’m forwarded an article that she appears in every day in all the chatter of fashion. It’s not an American phenomenon. It’s international. Also, she really helped a lot of people find their voice, and their lives. There’s a huge amount of good will toward her because of that.
Q. Most people are lucky to be considered a visionary once in their professional lives. She seemed to do it three times in three different places.
A. My grandmother really did something. What she achieved in Harper’s Bazaar was incredible. She created what is the backbone of modern visuals today. At Vogue, she turned a sleepy magazine into the dominant magazine it is today. Finally, she inherited this very curatorial, very staid, very traditional institution (the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and she totally rocked it. Now you have Alexander McQueen exhibitions. That would have never been in consideration if it wasn’t for my grandmother’s changing of the paradigms.
Q. Today’s most well-known fashion editor is Vogue’s Anna Wintour, whose reputation is equal parts fearsome and talented. What was your grandmother’s style of management?
A. She was definitely difficult and demanding. Most people with a point of view are. One thing that came out of those [Vogue] memos — there were no staff meetings, or weekend retreats where they all brainstormed visions of the magazine. She had very clear ideas — that Richard Avedon would go off to Cairo and photograph a hot Cleopatra. She didn’t want to hear a committee on that. At the same time, she wasn’t micromanaging what Dick was doing. She was just giving [artists] inspiration, leeway to define their own voice.
Q. Did you get to see her up close in action?
A. I was living overseas for most of those years. I moved to New York [to work at Ralph Lauren] in 1985 and was the only member of my family here. I spent a lot of time with her at the end of her life. I really used her wisdom. It was a very powerful moment for me.
Q. How did you go from capturing her in books and a documentary to fragrances?
A. I’ve had 30 years working and running luxury companies. It seemed to me she would have most relevance in fragrance and beauty. Two years ago, I found IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) to help me develop the scents. They put six perfumers to work with us, and developed five fragrances that are the final collection. I had no idea if this would work. Last November, I reached out to friends, and they all wanted this collection. Neimans wanted it in all its stores. It ended up being in 11 and Boston is one of them.
Q. Everything about the fragrances is bold. Would Diana approve?
A. We’ve worked hard to make a collection of fragrances that all do reflect my grandmother’s fearlessness and boldness.