She "discovered" actress Lauren Bacall, recognized the bikini as "the most important thing since the atom bomb," advised Jackie Kennedy on matters of style, and helped women navigate nearly 40 years of change in the 20th century by giving them a powerful point of view in her magazine pages.
And now, 26 years after her death, the legacy of fashion editor Diana Vreeland is still very much alive, thanks in no small part to her family.
In 2012, she was the subject of the documentary film, "The Eye Has to Travel," directed by granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland. In 2013, her spicy words were published in "Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years," with a forward by grandson Alexander Vreeland, who administers her estate. And last year, great-granddaughter Caroline Vreeland emerged as a new It girl on the fashion and party scene, an L.A.-based singer-songwriter with a sultry online music video who is poised to take the family name into the 21st century.
Diana Vreeland also remains a touchstone in fashion, cited by Marc Jacobs as inspiration for his hyper-fab fall 2015 collection and runway set, a reproduction of the famous living room she called "a garden in hell." And during the Academy Awards in February, fashion illustrator Donald Robertson brought Vreeland back to life in a series of drawings for Harper's Bazaar, where he imagined her hobnobbing with present-day stars on the red carpet.
Vreeland's cult of personality also lives on in a collection of fragrances. Diana Vreeland Parfums launched in September with six scents, and a recently added seventh for spring, an iris oud named Daringly Different.
"My grandmother changed history," says Alexander Vreeland over ice tea at Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills earlier this month, when he was in town earlier to launch the new scent and talk to customers about the fragrance brand, which he established after 12 years of working in the luxury business at Giorgio Armani. "The documentary my wife did was a turning point. We could see the resonance of my grandmother was far broader than we thought and more international. … The question for me then was, 'is there a product we could do that could be right for this brand, and could this be a brand?'
"We chose fragrance because my grandmother had legitimacy in it. A lot of stories about her talk about fragrance. When she was at Vogue, for example, you'd get off the elevator and you could smell her candles all the way down the hallway. And she used to pipe fragrance through the air conditioning ducts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." (Diana Vreeland was a special consultant at the Met's Costume Institute from 1972 until her death in 1989. She helped create several memorable exhibitions there, including "The Glory of Russian Costume" and "Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design.")
Alexander Vreeland spent two years developing the brand with the French firms IFF and France Labs, including storyboarding ideas and smelling hundreds of samples. The resulting fragrances play on Diana Vreeland's passion for color (who can forget her famous saying, "pink is the navy blue of India?) and her play with words ("a little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika" is another notable zinger).
Perfectly Marvelous is a heady jasmine and Absolutely Vital an earthy sandalwood. "My grandmother had this pot of sandalwood oil on her makeup table, and she would dab it behind her ears before she went out," he says.
Extravagance Russe is an Oriental that pays homage to the Russian exhibition at the Met. "She wanted the czar and czarina's clothes, but the Russians refused to lend them. So she and Jackie [Onassis] flew to Moscow to sit down with the ministry of culture," he explains. "They ended up getting everything they wanted."
Outrageously Vibrant is a gourmand fragrance, meaning you can actually eat it. ("I can spray some in your ice tea," he offers. I decline.) It's a combination of cassis and patchouli that Vreeland says is a top seller in Europe at Colette and 10 Corso Como.
Simply Divine is a tuberose that also uses the stem of the rose, and Smashingly Brilliant a sporty citrus with lemon and bergamot that's inspired by Vreeland's love of Capri.
The fragrances come in vibrantly colorful bottles designed by Fabien Baron, embellished with silk tassels and the initials D.V. Boxes are lined with some of her memorable quotes. Also available: a body cream and candles.
Next up for the Vreeland canon is a book about her 26 years at Harper's Bazaar, "Diana Vreeland: The Bazaar Years, 1936-1962," out in October. "It will show a different facet of her legacy, how she was so respectful of women. … Even though there was a lot of nudity, it was never inappropriate," her grandson says of her imagery in the magazine. "Fashion moved from ball gowns to streetwear and she was right in the middle of it. Women were comfortable in their bodies for the first time, and that evolving role is very important. … Moving women into bathing suits and caftans, it's a major body of work."