Truman Capote, Empress of Fashion, A Life of Diana Vreeland
“She’s a genius but she’s the kind of genius that very few people will ever recognize because you have to have genius yourself to recognize it. Otherwise you just think she’s a rather foolish woman.”
Truman Capote, Empress of Fashion, A Life of Diana Vreeland
Image Credit: Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style
“The intellectuals always have microscopes before their eyes.”
Albert Einstein, The Cosmic Religion
“If we have an intellectual working for Vogue, he’s running the elevator!”
Diana Vreeland, via Cecil Beaton, Beaton in the Sixties, The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them
“Keep your secret. That’s your power over others.”
Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion, A Life of Diana Vreeland
“This picture of the Duchess of Windsor looks like a Titian to me. I happen to know she loathed this picture. She couldn’t stand the past. But in this picture, she looks to me like someone who has seen the future.”
Diana Vreeland, Allure
Image Credit: Allure
"Once she called: Come for dinner tonight ... Jackie will be there ... who else would you like to meet?"
--Valentino, via Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style
Sorry for the break in posting. I have been hard at work on the annual NHL holiday catalogue. It is now completed, and a PDF version will soon be available for download via this blog. If you would like a hard copy version, please email me your address.
Here is the introduction from this year's catalogue:
“How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
--Little Edie Beale
It is fitting that Little Edie opens this year’s catalogue. She was the first reality superstar and its cultural apogee. How extraordinary that one of her successors in the medium has been elected to the presidency of the United States, the most powerful job on earth. From Grey Gardens to the White House Orangerie: reality programming—you have come a long way baby.
It is an astonishing shuffle of the cards that has left some questioning whether the electorate was playing with a full deck. It is also an event so significant to cultural history—a primary focus of Nick Harvill Libraries—that not to mention it would be ignoring the elephant (or donkey) in the room.
As we contemplate the implications of the election, we seek answers via social media and the Internet. That is akin to instructing a murderer to investigate his own crime. Technology has given us so much, but its dark side is that it has also flattened us out, trapping us in an echo chamber that obliterates the past and disparages opposing points of view.
Like Homer Simpson said of alcohol, the Internet is both the cause and solution to all of our problems. There is a reason it is called the World Wide Web and not the World Deep one. In places, it is baby-pool shallow. Worthwhile books and fascinating people have faded into oblivion, barely covered online. For the Nick Harvill Libraries blog that is an opportunity. I write and post articles that rank high in search results because they are the most in-depth treatment of a particular subject matter online.
Books are not perfect, but in their sum-total, they come close. They are pieces of an infinite and ever-changing puzzle. We must constantly resist the all-too human temptation to arrogantly decide where a puzzle piece ought to go and proceed to hammer it into place. Just as tempting, particularly for nonreaders, is to see the puzzle as complete with only a few inadequate pieces. [Cable news + religious dogma = not much of anything.]
That does not mean we all have to be of the intelligentsia. Diana Vreeland declared, “If we have an intellectual working for Vogue, he’s running the elevator!” I get the sentiment. Pure academic theorizing, untethered to how we actually live, comes with its own set of worries. Correlating literature with our own experiences, however, is one of life’s great pleasures—it connects us to both the present and the past and softens the loneliness intrinsic to the human condition.
Books enable us to see the temporal world in its proper perspective. It is a lesson so easy to forget that it must be constantly relearned. Everything is transitory. Ying becomes yang. Chanel liberates woman from her corset only for Dior ensnare her in it once again. Yippies become yuppies and join the Reagan Revolution. A president of exquisite gentility is replaced by his opposite.
Time despises entropy, and it is inevitable that good will revert to bad. It is only in the long arc of history that we see progress. Do not despair. Take comfort in the words of that unwittingly wise woman, Little Edie Beale. “How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
“I never remember anything unpleasant … remember that!”
--Diana Vreeland, via Stephen Jamail, Immoderate Style
The above quip is nowhere to be found in Diana Vreeland’s memoir D.V. Instead, it is but one of many off-the-cuff remarks Vreeland made in the company of Stephen Jamail, her devoted right hand man at the Costume Institute. Jamail recalled that Vreeland's nonstop aphorisms, spoken in a voice that “was a cross between a New York cabby and an English duchess,” often left him “scrambling for a scrap of paper to” in a desperate attempt to record them for posterity.
In this case, the quip might not have been exactly lost, just more difficult to uncover. It is also buried in a 2009 issue of Vogue Australia. The periodical’s former editor Sheila Scotter disclosed that she was present when the comment was made and revealed the context. It was Vreeland’s demurral "when asked what was the worst fashion show she had ever attended.”
Back in 1982, when Vreeland was very much alive, Stephen Jamail cooperated with a New York Magazine cover story on his Costume Institute boss, which is available in its entirety via Google Books.
Image Credit: Immoderate Style
“Always have a glass of champagne before making a serious decision. Or even before going to the dentist.”
--Diana Vreeland, via Rosamund Bernier (as recorded in Immoderate Style)
Image Credit: Immoderate Style
From Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style. Photograph by Lord Snowdon.
To mention Florence Pritchett Smith and conspiracy in the same sentence risks being led astray on on a tangent (see this related post). However, the truth is that her elegant cookbook and hostessing guide from 1966, These Entertaining People, A Guide for the Elegant Hostess, does expose a conspiracy of sorts. The fifties were an ignoble era for American cuisine. As income rose, food quality sank. Processed food industry shills like editor Poppy Cannon (see The Bride’s Cookbook) worked overtime to convince the American public that quality food could be produced cheaply and quickly via packaged mixes and can openers. These Entertaining People promoted the opposite, with advice from the author's friends. That those friends happened to be society’s most glamorous hostesses added sparkle and panache to the book.
As to be expected, Pritchett Smith herself was an accomplished hostess. Her husband was the final U.S. ambassador to Cuba prior to the Revolution. She presided over social events at the United States embassy in Havana up until the time when it would have been necessary to plan a welcome party for Fidel Castro and the other Communists rebels, which one imagines Pritchett Smith would have done with aplomb should the State Department have so required.
Following are seven considerations Florence Pritchett Smith considered most important when planning a dinner party:
“Taste buds were meant to be intrigued, never bored. Let them travel the road from bland to spicy, from sweet to tart, from rich to simple.”
There should be a variety of textures: “from thick to thin, from clear to creamy, from soft to crisp, from smooth to rough.”
First in Season
“Keep your eye on the markets for early seasonal things.” “Foods of the season arouse the strongest desires.”
“Pleasurable sensations can be created effectively by sharp contrasts in the temperature of foods.” Serve hot popovers with an ice-cold soup, or drizzle “a hot sauce over ice cream or cold fruit.”
Appropriateness (as to Occasion and Number of Guests)
“A black-tie dinner before a dance requires a menu as decorative as the beautifully dressed guests.” “The fewer the guests, the more delicious and unusual [the] food can be.”
Smith's advice is excellent but what makes this book extraordinary is its star power. Smith polled her society friends requesting their favorite menus, recipes, and entertaining advice. Astonishingly nearly all responded, even such media-adverse personalities as Betsey Whitney. Whitney’s less publicity-shy sisters Babe Paley and Minnie Astor Fosburgh of course replied, as well as Diana Vreeland, C.Z. Guest, Marella Agnelli, and the former and present Mrs. Leland Haywards (Slim and Pam). One of the respondents—Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan—was vaguely related to the author. Her niece, also named Consuelo, had once been married to Florence Pritchett’s husband Earl E.T. Smith (and had two children by him).
Advice from Pritchett Smith's glamorous friends takes up a good portion of the book. Here are some of the best:
“Don’t invite too many married couples. It is suburban. Have pretty women, attractive men, guests who are en passant, the flavor of another language. This is the jet age, so have something new and changing.”
“I have one menu if friends from the United States lunch with us, another for Europeans, and still a different menu for guests from Asia, who are so often vegetarian.”
“At a big dinner I like to have two pretty girls at each table if possible. It makes it more festive because they are as decorative as a bouquet of flowers.”
Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
“I believe that tact, that intuitive sympathy, will provide the only answer to social problems. It will help to smooth over difficulties and ignore rudeness, at least for the time being. I personally believe in eliminating bounders and bores as well as the cutlet-for-cutlet principle by the simple rule of not accepting an invitation I do not wish to return.”
“My menus are worked out in advance, and I keep the likes and dislikes of my guests in mind.”
Countess Consuelo Crespi
“The extra effort is worth every minute of it when you realize your efforts have made someone happy.”
“Remember, you have invited your guests to your home not to forcibly express your ideas of life and living, but to hear them express theirs.”
“Everyone should learn to create food that belongs to them, not just the inevitable cold ham and turkey… It’s too impersonal. I think so many amusing succulent dishes can be whipped up that it seems to me an awful pity people don’t have a personal idiom, even in their food.”
“[A supper dance should] have lots of tables, lots of soft candlelight, lots of pretty girls in pretty dresses, two or three bars, and two different places for your supper buffet.”
The Duchess of Windsor
“Keep a menu book listing the [food], wine, table setting, the guest list and seating plan, and after-dinner amusements to avoid repetition with the same guest.”
Pamela Hayward Harriman
“Hostesses must care that everything is arranged for comfort and fun.”
When this book went to press, Pamela was still Mrs. Leland Hayward. Following his death, she married senior statesmen Averell Harriman with whom she had enjoyed a love affair during World War II. As Mrs. Harriman, she became a leading hostess for the Democratic Party, propelling William Jefferson Clinton to the White House. President-elect Clinton rewarded her with a plum assignment, ambassadress to France. Her rules for entertaining, which went on to secure her future successes, are included in the book:
1. Do not ruin dinner for other guests because one guest is late.
2. When inviting people, call them on the telephone yourself. It makes it so much more personal.
3. Never criticize servants or a family member in front of other guests.
4. Don’t answer the telephone unless it is an emergency.
5. Never talk about your own domestic or personal problems.
6. Stimulate the conversation, but don’t jog it.
7. Knowing how to cook yourself is fundamental, whether you must or not.
Following are some of the recipes included in the book. NHL has not attempted any of them but is rather intrigued by Countess Consuelo Crespi's Ice Cream Cheese. It seems strange to mix a variety a cheeses together into a melange. One imagines it would be either a terrible failure or a terrific success.
Sadly Florence Pritchett Smith passed away prior to her book's publication. The death of an author limits a publisher's ability to properly promote a book, particularly in the case of a lifestyle tome that relies so much on book-signing events. There were only a few printings and no second edition. At present, Nick Harvill Libraries has one copy available for sale here. It appears to be the only one available anywhere online. [Update: this copy has now sold.]