Diana Vreeland's Parents Were Emotionally Abusive, Says Biographer

Diana Vreeland biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, author of recently-released Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland, sat down with NPR to talk about the legendary American fashion editor—and one thing we didn't expect to learn about Vreeland is that she was, allegedly, emotionally abused by her parents, who didn't think she was pretty enough.

"Diana Vreeland was the plain child in a family of beauties," Stuart said. "Her father was a very handsome man. Her mother was a very famous New York society beauty and her younger sister was a very, very beautiful and easy child. Diana was the difficult one and she always felt that her mother was somehow ashamed of her because of what she looked like and to make matters worse, her mother was somewhat flighty and often not there... and the person who held the household together was a nanny who just echoed her mother's antipathy towards her and it was always around this question of what Diana looked like and being a plain child."

It's hard to imagine that one of the most revered and influential figures in American fashion in the last century was so stigmatized by her own family over her looks, of all things. But if you've ever felt the same way—and so many of us have, I'm sure—maybe you'll take some inspiration from what Vreeland did and how she responded.

"She did have a very miserable and difficult—really, a borderline abusive relationship with her mother," Stuart said. "But... what happened was that she developed a sort of parallel imaginative life into which she was able to escape, and we can see that happening in her diaries, even when she was 14. And she spent hours working out what she wanted this idealized version of herself to be.

"And as she grew a little bit older and she moved into her late teens and she came out as a debutante in society, she actually sort of bridged the gap between this rather gawky teenager and the strikingly stylish young woman," Stuart said. "It actually worked and she managed to find herself the most gorgeous, handsome husband as a result of it."

Check out Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland, out now.
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