Capturing Diana Vreeland’s larger-than-life personality in something as compact as a fragrance might seem impossible. After all, the fashion editor (of Harper’s Bazaar, 1937 to 1962, and Vogue, 1962 to 1971) and special consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute led a theatrically unparalleled life. Yet her grandson, Alexander Vreeland, has managed to bottle her stylish spirit seamlessly with the release of Diana Vreeland Parfums. Inspired by her famous catchphrases and exuberant love for the extravagant, Alexander — who worked in marketing and sales for Giorgio Armani and Polo Ralph Lauren before taking over Diana’s estate five years ago — perfected five scents: Simply Divine, Outrageously Vibrant, Perfectly Marvelous, Extravagance Russe and Absolutely Vital. During a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus NorthPark, Alexander discussed the collection and reminisced about his grandmother’s legacy.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MEMORIES OF SPENDING TIME WITH YOUR GRANDMOTHER?
The thing that made her such a great grandmother was that she was very excited about my life, and I didn’t feel that she tried to get me to change what I was doing. She sort of romanticized my life. My father and I were in Morocco for four years, and she was convinced we were riding camels to school. She had a very different vision about us, but that was wonderful. She wasn’t saying, “You should go to law school,” or to do this and that. It was more like “That’s so great … How’s the camel?”
HOW DID SHE INFLUENCE VOGUE?
She didn’t leave anything how she found it. She really was a revolutionary force in what a magazine should look like, the imagery and what the magazine should cover. In that, there’s a really powerful message to women. It’s got a lot to do with your own dreams and how you want to live your life. She wasn’t one to hold onto the classics; she wanted to push the barriers.
WHY CREATE A FRAGRANCE COLLECTION?
When I took over my grandmother’s estate, I got two of her books back in print, and my wife, Lisa, produced a documentary about her (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel). What came from this was that she kept resonating with people today. Not necessarily people who had met her, been to her exhibits at the Met or grew up reading her Vogue, just people who were really into fashion and luxury goods. I have always felt that a fragrance needs a dream. If you have that dream, you can have a wonderful fragrance.
HOW CAN YOU SEE YOUR GRANDMOTHER IN THE FRAGRANCES?
My grandmother was a storyteller, and I think people get really inspired by those stories and how they tie into each individual fragrance. We’ve worked hard on each storyboard. I decided to concentrate on her passion for colors and playing with words in a really fun way. We use all of these words and expressions of hers.
DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF CREATING THE SCENTS.
We were looking for things that are bold, powerful, luxurious and feminine. I called Fabien Baron, who is the director of the Calvin Klein and Prada fragrances and all of their bottles. I’ve known him forever. He created the bottle, the magnetic top and the packaging. I reached out to Karen Katz, the CEO of Neiman Marcus, whom I’ve known since she was a store manager. She got right back to me and said the Bergdorf’s team would come and see [the collection]. It was December 3, 2013. They came in, smelled the fragrances, looked at the packaging and the logo, and there was a long silence. Normally it goes: “I like you very much, but come back in six months” or “This is in progress, but not quite there.” But the president of Bergdorf’s, Joshua Schulman, said, “I think this is really great, and we would love to have it. It’s a Bergdorf’s kind of product.” Jim Gold [CEO of the Neiman Marcus Group] loved it as well. We were off and running, and then Barney’s wanted it, Saks wanted it. It went from this little concept that we were egging along to now we’re in Paris, London and Milan and a bunch of specialty stores in Europe. It’s going really well.
TELL ME ABOUT THE FIVE FRAGRANCES.
Perfectly Marvelous has a strong jasmine smell, but it melts down into sandalwood and has a nice evolution. Absolutely Vital is our number one at Bergdorf’s right now. It’s universal; they don’t say unisex anymore. My grandmother loved sandalwood. It’s very beautiful. Outrageously Vibrant is richer. It has cassis, patchouli and black currant, and it evolves as you wear it. Extravagance Russe is an amber. My grandmother had a real passion for Russia. Her passion had to do with czars and czarinas — that’s what turned her on. She did two exhibits at the Met on Russia — only the parts that interested her. Our number-one fragrance at Neiman Marcus is Simply Divine, a tuberose. Tuberoses are tricky; it’s a very bold perfume.
WHY INCLUDE TASSELS?
We wanted to bring in more color, more movement, and to be more playful.
THERE’S ALSO A CANDLE?
Yes, it’s based on Extravagance Russe. It’s a large candle that burns for 60 hours. There is also a body lotion and travel spray, and there is talk of doing makeup [in 2015].
HOW ESSENTIAL WAS FRAGRANCE TO YOUR GRANDMOTHER?
Every environment she went into, she wanted it to have a smell. Scent was an important part of communication. In the same way that we put this little thing here to be welcoming [points to a vase of flowers and tray of beverages], she would have flowers and music and scent. That was her way of saying, “Now we’re somewhere.”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SCENT FROM THE COLLECTION?
Absolutely Vital is beautiful. The sandalwood is so gorgeous. That’s the one I’m wearing now.
Fragrance $185 to $250, candle $90, body cream $125, travel spray $145, at Neiman Marcus NorthPark in Dallas and Neiman Marcus Galleria in Houston.