While you're watching the dizzily enjoyable documentary "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel," you may find yourself thinking with an increasing fervor that, yes, wearing violet velvet mittens with everything is a fantastic idea and that you're just mad about rouge.

Vreeland, a doyenne of 20th-century fashion and a paradigmatic self-made woman, had a genius for the inspirational, the gnomic and the divinely quotable. Atwitter before Twitter, she was a fabulous wit who brings to mind Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol even while being inimitably Vreelandesque: "The best thing about London is Paris." "Fashion is not the same thing as style." "I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity."

Vreeland, nee Diana Dalziel, was born in Paris around the turn of the 20th century and died in New York in 1989. In between, she lived an extraordinary life that, in classic American fashion, was a triumph of self-invention.

Her father, Frederick Young Dalziel, was British and a stockbroker; her mother, Emily Key Hoffman (related to Francis Scott Key), was American and cruel, at least to her eldest daughter. "Parents, you know," Vreeland says in "D.V.," her compulsively readable autobiography, "can be terrible." Certainly that seems true of her mother who, when Vreeland was a child, told her that she was "extremely ugly," unfavorably comparing her to Diana's younger sister, Alexandra. "It didn't offend me that much," she said. She just walked out of the room and, it seems, onto her own path.


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That road is laid out in the documentary, which was written and directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the wife of Vreeland's grandson Alexander. Lisa Vreeland exploits the family connection smartly, sprinkling the movie with talking-head interviews with her relatives, including Diana's sons, Frederick and Tim.

Although both men are fairly discreet when it comes to their mother, there's no denying the pain that edges into their faces when they discuss life with her. Diana Vreeland was mad (one of her favorite words) about her beautiful husband, Thomas, a banker and apparent philanderer whose goatishness is elided here, but she doesn't appear to have been remotely interested in being a parent.

She says as much in the dialogue with George Plimpton recited by off-screen actors. It was taken from transcripts of the conversations they had while working on "D.V." As Plimpton gently prods and coaxes, Vreeland parries and thrusts, digresses and dissembles, sometimes hilariously, narrating a life that became a vocation and included a quarter-century at Harper's Bazaar and an influential reign at Vogue, where she was the editor from 1963 to 1971. Their conversation is the spine of the movie, which also features many glittering witnesses, including an animated, funny Manolo Blahnik who proclaims and exclaims while next to a high-heel shoe.

To judge from all these fond and jaundiced memories, Vreeland's life was a decades-long whirlwind of beauty and color, sustained by a deep, unquenchable hunger for life and a revolt against conformity and Mommy Meanest.

'diana vreeland: the eye has to travel'

* * *

Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Director: Lia Immordino Vreeland
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes