On 24 March, just after we went into lockdown Rizzoli published a fashion book, Diana Vreeland: Bon Mots, Words of Wisdom from the Empress of Fashion. Pulled together by her grandson, Alexander Vreeland, it celebrates her distinctive voice and attitudes for life with illustrations by Luke Edward Hall. It’s one of a string of wonderful projects he’s worked on including designing a curtain for the English National Opera, lamps for Svenskt Tenn and swimming shorts for La Sirenuse. We caught up with the artist-of-the-moment:
Can you tell us a bit about the experience of working with Alexander Vreeland on the Bon Mots book?
It was a really enjoyable and inspiring experience. Alexander really pushed me to capture the essence of his grandmother with my drawings. To help with inspiration, he shared some wonderful images of Mrs Vreeland and her NYC apartment with me, and when speaking on the phone throughout the project, he’d always have fascinating little stories or titbits to offer up.
Favourite Diana Vreeland quip?
Oh golly, so many. I love this one: ‘How can life be possible without fantasy?’
What else have you been working on recently?
I’ve been working on the interior design and art direction of a new hotel and bistro in Paris, drawings and paintings for an exhibition in London (postponed!), a couple of new collaborations and my weekly FT column.
Where do you do your work?
Usually I work in my studio, which is in Highbury, North London. For the past six or seven weeks however I’ve been working in one of the two spare bedrooms at our cottage in Gloucestershire. This past week I’ve taken to working in the stable opposite the house, as I’ve been making some oil paintings and it’s a messy business.
How have you been spending lockdown and what impact has it had on your creativity?
I have to say that I feel very lucky to be out here in the countryside. The nature here, the good weather and the glorious arrival of spring – these have been fabulous and invigorating for my creativity and imagination. This being said, some of my projects have been postponed or delayed, which is frustrating. It’s a difficult time for everyone, but I’m trying my best to stay positive. I’m an optimistic person anyway.
Have you learnt any new skills?
A real plus for me: I’ve had time to work on personal projects – drawings, painting and so on. Apart from oil painting, I’m taking lots of photographs. (I often buy old cameras and then never get around to using them.) I’m running a few times a week also, which I’ve been really enjoying. Pre-lockdown I used to go on the odd jog, but I’ve been trying much harder!
What are your favourite ways to relax at the moment?
Cooking and gardening. It’s our first spring here in the country and we’re really enjoying experimenting with bulbs, seeds and plants. I built a structure the other day for my sweet peas to clamber up. I’m hoping it’ll work. In the evenings I’m reading a lot. On my bedside table at the moment I have: Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones, In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West and Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski.
What’s the first place you’ll go when Lockdown lifts?
Well, I wouldn’t mind a jaunt to Italy. Capri, specifically! I want to see all of my friends, of course. We’re thinking about throwing a summer fete in our garden. If we can. I want to make a bar in the vegetable beds with a billowing pink tablecloth.
What’s the most treasured possession in your house? And why?
Our new puppy, Merlin. He’s a whippet and he arrived a couple of weeks ago. Aside from him, perhaps it’s our Venetian gilt grotto chair, which has a giant shell for a back. Or the photographic print we have in our dining room of a naked man covering himself with a polar bear rug by George Platt Lynes.
Anything exciting in the pipeline you’d like to share?
I’ve started making unisex jerkins (or waistcoats) using scraps of old interiors fabrics I’ve collected over the years. It’s a very lo-fi project. The ‘label’ is called The Castle of the Forest Sauvage, and I’m selling them via Instagram. I’m only making a few a month. I think the waistcoat is my favourite garment.
Diana Vreeland: Bon Mots, Words of Wisdom from the Empress of Fashion, by Alexander Vreeland with illustrations from Luke Edward Hall. £22 amazon.co.uk