It was business as usual–it is Wednesday after all –as the media honchos (James Dolan, Jon Steinberg), talking heads (Ron Insana) and various strivers and spinmeisters made the scene to be seen at Michael’s today.
I was thrilled to be joined by Alexander Vreeland and our mutual friend Mickey Ateyeh to talk about Diana Vreeland Parfums, an extraordinary new fragrance collection inspired by Alexander’s iconic grandmother, Diana Vreeland. Long before Anna Wintour, there was Diana Vreeland, whose unparalleled career in fashion included 26 years as fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and nine as editor in chief of Vogue. At 70 years old, she also transformed The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from a somewhat fusty, academic institution into a vitally important nexus of art and fashion.
“She created something at the Met which is now a standard for museums all over the world. There are a lot of caretakers [in fashion] today,” the utterly dashing and impeccably dressed Alexander told me. “My grandmother changed the game. Very few people change the landscape. She took Vogue, which at the time was more like a social magazine, like Town & Country, and made it a fashion magazine.”
I just had to ask him what his grandmother would think of the parade of circus sideshow acts masquerading as celebrities that posed and preened on the red carpet at last week’s Costume Institute Gala. “My grandmother was very adventurous and she liked people who took risks. She had no problem with vulgarity,” he said. “She loved wacko, wonderful people.”
Alexander, who previously worked in sales and communications at Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani (whose business in the states went from 150 million to 1.4 billion when Alexander was heading up sales), told me he was “really close” to his grandmother, who died in 1989, when he was 34. He has taken great care to stay true to her legacy since being asked to take on the role of president of her estate in 2009. When his father asked him to assume the title “he acted as if he were turning over the keys to the Ford Company,” said Alexander.
Since then, he’s published several books on his grandmother and his wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, directed the much-lauded documentary, The Eye Has to Travel, which examined her life and work. Alexander’s latest book, The Modern Woman, chronicles her career at Harper’s Bazaar through the indelible images she created with photographer Richard Avedon, will be published this fall by Rizzoli and fêted at a fancy soirée at Bergdorf Goodman. Alexander noted that most people associate his grandmother most closely with Vogue, even though she spent many more years at Bazaar. “[Current Bazaar editor] Glenda Bailey is really enthusiastic about the book,” said Alexander. Of acquiring the unforgettable images, Alexander charmingly joked, “I had to sell one of my children to get those photographs, I used to have four, now I have three.”
When I mentioned that many of the images she created with Avedon still resonate today (as do her signature phrases like ‘pink is the navy blue of India’), Alexander agreed. “Many of those images could run today because they still look so modern, hence the title for the new book.” He is often asked what his grandmother would think of one fashion trend or another and Alexander said his answer is always the same: “She was born in 1903 so it’s impossible to know. What is clear is that she had an unbelievable sense of her time.” Indeed.
Over the course of our two-hour lunch, Alexander spoke with great enthusiasm about all the estate’s projects, but he is most passionate about Diana Vreeland Parfums. “In developing the fragrance collections, we had two pillars: her love of words and her love of color. Her words are ageless and the colors [she loved] are wonderful.” Fresh off his first press event, held yesterday at Hayward House on the Upper East Side where he presented the seven Diana Vreeland Parfums fragrances, he shared samples of the exquisite scents with me. With names like Smashingly Brilliant, Simply Divine and Daringly Different (all favorite words of his grandmother “but not necessarily used together in the same way”), the sophisticated scents exude luxury and evoke, at least to me, images of well-dressed women sipping champagne at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side and lunching at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills. It was no surprise to learn that the fragrances are carried exclusively at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Alexander’s marketing team oversees “a big presence” across all social media platforms in promoting the collection.
Knowing the fashion and beauty business is ruled by a notoriously difficult crowd, I asked Alexander if having such a famous and fashion-friendly last name made it easy to gain a foothold in the industry. “I met with 70 people about the brand and not one pulled out a checkbook and said it was a great idea.” The tipping point, he explained, came at the end of 2013, when he borrowed space in a friend’s Gramercy Park townhouse, painted a room red (his grandmother’s signature color) adorned with quotes from the Memo bookand set up a small salon for the presentation of the scents which were, at the time, “90 percent there,” along with the packaging designed by renowned art director Fabien Baron. Within a week, every major luxury retailer from Bergdorfs to Barneys to Saks wanted to carry the collection. Today, the scents are sold in 15 countries and more brand extensions, including scented candles, are in the works. Remembering that first presentation, where an unsmiling squadron of executives came to the townhouse and silently examined the scents for what seemed like an eternity, Alexander said, “It took a lot of courage to go out like that. ” In the end, though, he followed the advice of his grandmother who said: “Give them what they never knew they wanted.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan and some boisterous blue blazers
2. Alexander Vreeland, Mickey Ateyeh and yours truly
3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and George Stevens
4. Jim Abernathy
5. Lanky Luke Janklow
6. Dr. Gerald Imber (who stopped by our table for a friendly chat), Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman
7. Bookseller Glenn Horowitz
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and two well-heeled gents we didn’t get to meet
9. PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky and Susan Silver, who added the much-lauded women’s point of view to The Mary Tyler Moore Show back in the day…
11. Paxton Quigley–what a great name!
12. Andrea Eastman
14. CNBC’s Ron Insana lunching with a grey-haired hedge fund type
15. Peter Price
16. Steven Stolman with Tommy Quick, Frank Rico and Tom Shea. Next week I’ll be serving up all the dish on Steven’s latest book, Confessions of a Serial Entertainer.
17. Shelly Palmer
18. Estée Lauder’s Alexandra Trower and communications consultant and strategic advisor Mike Berland. “He’s taught us a lot about a lot of things,” Alexandra told me of Mike, who has been able to adapt his advice learned on the campaign trail for all sorts of end uses. He imparted these words of wisdom to me: When the situation warrants a plan, “It’s important to act with immediacy.” Duly noted.
20. Producers Joan Gelman and Sandy Pearl
21. Quest’s Chris Meigher and Tony Hoyt
22. Robert Kramer
23 Author Greg Lawrence
24. Bernard Schwartz
25. Rubenstein’s Steve Solomon
26. Beverly Camhe
27. Entertainment Weeky’s Diane Whiteley
28. MailOnline’s North America CEO Jon Steinberg
Faces in the Crowd: Deposed Saks Fifth Avenue president Marigay McKee, who, dressed all in black, kept her sunglasses on and definitely did not want to be noticed on her way back to the Garden Room. Lest you feel too bad for the stunning retail executive, consider this: none other than Ronald Lauder is throwing her engagement party in anticipation to her upcoming wedding to billionaire Bill Ford. Some people have all the luck.
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.