Headshot Credit: Inez and Vinoodh
Diana Vreeland left a legacy of style across so many industries, she is commonly regarded as the most influential woman in fashion history. Her professional accomplishments read like the ultimate ‘wish list’ for any aspiring literati or fashionista. In addition to her roles at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines as editor and columnist, she discovered talent such as Lauren Bacall and Edie Sedgwick, she launched careers like Manolo Blahnik, and she was a fashion advisor to Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s. She also served as a special consultant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1964.
Her grandson, Alexander Vreeland made a name for himself over a 30-year career working for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. Yet it wasn’t until taking over the duties of his grandmother’s estate and watching the 2011 documentary “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” produced by his wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, that he came to recognize just how significant her influence and legacy has truly been. Coming to embrace the ever-present interest surrounding Diana’s life, he was inspired to create a product that captured his grandmother’s story. So he launched a fragrance line in her name to keep her inspiration alive, an appropriate homage to a woman who loved scent so much she used to pipe fragrance through the air conditioning ducts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As Diana Vreeland said, “Fragrances fill the senses with the mysterious.”
In honor of the launch of Full Gallop, the 10th eau de parfum in the line, we talked to Alexander about his grandmother’s life and legacy, and how he continues to tell the story of a life through fragrance.
Why did you want to start a fragrance collection, versus fashion or another category in Diana Vreeland’s name?
I had a 30-year career in fashion, I worked at Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Armani- I had a long fashion career and it honestly never donned on me to get into the fragrance business or do anything in my grandmother’s name. And then one day my father and uncle asked me to take over my grandmother’s estate and when I was reviewing all of this communiqué about her and watching her documentary, something just became clear – the level of respect and the level of interest in her was so big. It’s so rare to have someone like my grandmother; she changed everything that she touched. At American Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s she understood the ‘modern woman’ and the evolution of intelligent people and how they wanted to be in control of their bodies and their lives and their choices; she wanted to tell a story that was very empowering for women. So I thought I should create a product that really captured that and fragrances are so wonderful and she loved them so it’s perfect.
What ways to the fragrances embody your grandmother?
I worked a long time in fashion and have come to understand what the DNA to ‘brand-ship’ is. We are the only fragrance brand in the niche category that has a true fashion sensibility. We are also one of the few that is strictly a women’s story and I felt really strongly that we needed to develop a fragrance for women and create products that speak to women. All of our bottles are different, vibrant colors and they all have names that are made up from different quotes related to my grandmother’s life. Most of our competitors are all male and their products are very masculine- the bottle are clear, the labels are white, the letters are black, it’s like there is a formula. Instead of going in that direction, we try to connect in a way that nobody else does. I’ve learned so much about that from working in the industry- Giorgio Armani has always had a good sense of how to create a product for a woman. He doesn’t work in a vacuum and say ‘I love it so I hope someone else will love it.’ He’s always had a clear sense of who is customer is and he creates the product for them. That is a real art.”
How are each of the fragrances different from each other, and what do you want consumers to take away from each one?
We are currently working with five different perfumers on a regular basis. You often find that a certain brand works with the same perfumer over and over again and so they may launch different fragrances but the scents end up telling the same story. We have five perfumers and my wife and I work very heavily with them- we sit down with them every other week and really try to develop the scent and make sure they have our brand’s DNA. Our DNA is made for a woman, has to be multi-faceted, has to stay on the skin for a long time and really needs to be as luxurious as it possibly can.
How does the development process come about?
We have someone at IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc.) who presents us with new ideas every few months and then we choose the ones we like, whose choose a note we like and then it can take up to a year to really develop it. It’s like writing a song- you start with a melody you like; some melodies become songs and some don’t. It’s the same with a fragrance. We start with a note we really like and we work to develop it. Sometimes we work and work and work and it just doesn’t happen. For instance, we’ve been wanting to have a rose fragrance in the collection and we just haven’t created one we love yet. Sometimes they come together and sometimes they don’t.”
Did any of your fashion contemporaries offer any advice when you launched the line?
When I created the collection, I brought some samples over to Pierre Berge who was Yves Saint Laurent’s partner and he’s like the elder statesman of design and very outspoken and opinionated. And he was so filled with compliments about how elegant and beautiful it was and how it elevates my grandmother. It was very important for me to hear that kind of feedback from someone who I respect so much. I feel that this is a big responsibility and I want it to be as amazing as possible.
What is in store for the future of this collection?
We’re working on three of four new fragrances over the next couple of years so we’ll see what path they take takes and where they go but we’re always working on new ideas. The collection needs to develop itself out and have more offerings. It’s so exciting for me that our new fragrances are doing so well because so often that the first launch does well and then things fall off.
What are your favorite memories of your grandmother?
My favorite memories are really when I spent one-to-one time with her, alone time with her. It’s not these grand memories of her at a party or anything like that. My mother’s parents got divorced and re-married before I was born, so I ended up with three grandmothers and three grandfathers; I had enough of them to know that my Grandmother Vreeland was different than the rest. She was always a force of positivism, possibilities, openness and creativity but she never told me what to do with my life. She never said I had to go to a certain school or pursue a certain career. She always wanted to know what I was thinking about and what I wanted. She was always so curious and had questions about what I was doing. She was always so supportive and positive.
How do those memories influence the brand?
Empowerment is really part of our brand. My grandmother’s first stint in fashion was the Why Don’t You column (in Harper’s Bazaar) and she penned a message of empowerment and confidence; that is so much part of her story. These truly aren’t fragrances for everyone. They are very feminine and luxurious and strong. They are made for a woman who wants to make a statement with her scent -they are statement fragrances. Our perfumes are for women who are bold and comfortable with themselves. It’s what my grandmother would wear if she were 35 years old today.