The dynamism and vigor of Diana Vreeland continue to inspire well beyond her grave. After watching the documentary “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel” and reading “Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland” by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, I am so moved by Vreeland ‘s vivacious spirit, thirst for the eccentric, and unyielding enthusiasm for life, all of which seemed to radiate from the television screen and the book’s pages and into my soul.
Most memorable of Vreeland was the magic she manifested with words: “Pizzazz. Youthquake. The Beautiful People. Diana Vreeland had a spectacular gift for language, coining words and phrases that painted—in a single, vivid stroke—a feeling, a movement, a fantasy.” (Vogue) Her Vreeland-isms were both outrageously fantastical and brilliantly perceptive:
- “Red is the great clarifier — bright and revealing. I can’t imagine becoming bored with red — it would be like becoming bored with the person you love.”
- “The bikini is the most important thing since the atom bomb.”
- “The best thing about London is Paris.”
- “I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.”
- “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.”
In addition to her divine adoration for fashion, Vreeland also loved jewelry. A smart mix of fabulous fashion jewelry (or “junk jewels” as she called them) and terrific fine jewels could often be found aplenty on the ever stylish Vreeland. Among her favorite pieces of jewelry was a pair of Verdura Byzantine cuffs, which she routinely armored her wrists with to take on the the fashion world as Vogue’s editor in chief in the 1960s.
However, one jewel that never fails to catch my eye is her ‘Trophée de Vaillance’ brooch by Jean Schlumberger. Vreeland was not only a close friend but also a lifelong supporter and mentor to Schlumberger throughout his career. Affectionately calling Schlumberger ‘Johnny’ ever since they first met in Paris, Vreeland commissioned the talented young designer to create her dream jewel, a ‘trophy of gallantry’. The resulting jewel is now considered one of Schlumberger’s earliest masterpieces.
Created in 1941 before Schlumberger’s involvement with Tiffany & Co., the iconic brooch takes the form of a military trophy, the platinum and gold breast plate and tunic set with diamonds. Behind is an oval shield encrusted with faceted oval amethysts and cabochon rubies, with a blue and gold enamel border. Blue and grey enamel longbow, arrows, spear, pike and axe project from behind the shield, while a ruby-set star pommel projects from within the armor.
In explaining the iconography behind and her devotion to the brooch, Vreeland explained to Tiffany & Co.’s John Loring that “Johnny made me a clip inspired by a trophy of gallantry that I had admired [on an eighteenth-century statue of King Stanislaus of Poland] in Nancy that stuck in my memory; I adore this clip. I stand it on my bedside table at night. I never part with it because of all it represents to me: gallantry; the war that men fight for the safety of all beautiful women in danger.”
This highly unique brooch is a most fitting jewel for one of fashion’s fiercest warriors. Under her helm, Harper’s Bazaar and later Vogue broke the conservative barriers and introduced the changing times of the 1950s, 60s and 70s through their wildly imaginative fashion spreads featuring the most cutting edge styles of the times. Without question, Vreeland left an indelible mark in the world of fashion throughout her reign, and well afterward, as its unofficial ‘Empress’.