An interview with Alexander Vreeland
Fragrances fill the senses with the mysterious
“Fragrances fill the senses with the mysterious” – Diana Vreeland
Discovering a fragrance for the first time should be a celebratory event, where we are open to discovery and fun, to explore with the intent of finding that perfect scent. Having a signature fragrance is one of those necessary indulgences. It is an invisible calling card to make a public proclamation about oneself. It is a form of self-care, and it can be a part of “-l’art de seduction.” Sometimes, I feel like Goldilocks while trying on different fragrances and then when I find the perfect one, it’s like being in a dream- a place where I want to stay from the first spritz. There’s been a movement where many favor spending discretionary income on experiences rather than acquiring things. Buying a fragrance bridges these two worlds - the material and the experiential.
I arrive at the world renowned department store, Bergdorf Goodman for my meeting with Alexander Vreeland and here we feel a bit of the charmed life entering this space. It was originally designed by the firm of Buchman and Kahn in the Beaux Art Style and completed in 1928. It is a fitting environment for those who prefer to shop in elegance. Typically when I go to Bergdorf’s it is to peruse “l’art de la table”, the books and the decorative home items on the seventh floor. Yet this time, I'm in for a special treat outside of my discipline of all things for the home. I find myself in the windowless yet pleasantly light and airy lower level and a plentiful array of perfumes, including Diana Vreeland Parfums line. Here, I meet Alexander at their sales counter and display.
The ancient Greeks believed that beautiful scents were a means of contacting the Gods, and maybe for Alexander Vreeland, it’s a way to contact his grandmother, Diana Vreeland - the Goddess of Fashion, legendary editor of Harper's Bazaar, and American Vogue and special consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Diana was one of the most extraordinary women of the 20th century. One of Alexander’s responsibilities for her estate is ensure that her name is protected. Alexander, also wanted to do something to keep Diana's spirit alive, - so she may continue to be an inspiration, and he decided to start with a line of fragrances. The collection consists of nine fragrances, three scented candles, and a body cream.
Alexander, I learned is not only the grandson of Diana Vreeland, but also the son of a diplomat and the former US ambassador of Morocco, Frederick Daiziel Vreeland. This permitted him the opportunity to live extensively abroad and to speak several languages. Alexander is personable and low-key, and has worked for the best in the fashion business including Giorgio Armani. He tells me that Diana Vreeland Parfums are sold in several countries, covering Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia. He travels extensively every four to five weeks and is expanding his market. There’s opportunity in Iran with the embargo lifted, and he explained that Iran has a history that appreciates fragrances and understands luxury. In the States, he has a staff of twenty-five working for him with twenty across the States in sales and five at the home office. The company, in partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances collaborates with a team of five who are some of the world’s best noses; Celine Barel, Pascal Gaurin, Clement Gavarry, Yves Cassar and Carlos Benaim.
Alexander explained that most scents are typically created first with a budget in mind, yet at Diana Vreeland’s Parfums they are free from this typical directive. The noses’ talent and creative freedom are allowed to shine in this environment. The objective was to offer a fragrance that would encapsulate Diana Vreeland’s personality - theatrical, colorful, intelligent and fun. She was also outstandingly accomplished, intelligent, witty, passionate, and worldly. It is a perk for the consumers, who are getting the best in creativity and quality. This extends to the colorful crystal looking glass bottles from the manufacturer Verreries Brosse, designed by Fabien Baron. The bottles are further adored with a tassel and boxed in Diana’s favorite color -red. (When I think of her, I always think of her red living room designed by Billy Baldwin. She told him she wanted it to “look like a garden, but a garden in hell.”)
Instead of explaining perfume with it’s top, middle and bottom notes he walks me through each scent as if they were short stories. The name of each fragrance is taken from one of Diana Vreeland’s quotes. I narrowed down my favorites to three: “Perfectly Marvelous”- light, perfect as an every day fragrance, and the one Alexander felt suited me best. It was the Jasmine in “Perfectly Marvelous” that lured me in and the Sandalwood that kept me there. I was drawn to the candle scent “Extravagance Russe” - as I think it would be a fantastic scent for the home. It makes me dream to travel to Russia. And then there’s “Devastatingly Chic.” I was attracted to the contemporary use of carnation and rose with touches of mandarin, pink pepper and patchouli. It is a very polished scent and the name is perfect as it optimizes the very word - chic.
Meeting with Alexander I got to see another side of Diana - the private side of a doting grandmother. Yet, in the process she gave back to the world and thanks to Alexander, we all can get to know Diana Vreeland more than we knew previously, or to be introduced to her for the first time. A little vicarious living could be a good thing as it can inspire us to travel, make an extra effort on getting ready for our day and make something for ourselves. Given his life and travel experience, I thought it would be helpful to know which museums we shouldn’t miss if the opportunity arises to travel. He suggests the Gallery of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art at the The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. In Paris he advises the Brancusi Atelier, and stateside The Menil Collection in Houston.
I’m sure I’ll think of Diana when I have a chance to visit any of these collections and I’ll put my best foot forward with dressing nicely and possibly adding a spritz of perfume while taking in magnificent Art.