Diana Vreeland, Unwitting Yogi

Photo: Source unknown

Photo: Source unknown

Watching the documentary “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” over the weekend, we were overtaken by a mad desire to grab a notebook and a flashlight, and furiously begin scribbling notes in the darkened cinema. It’s the same feeling that flood you in certain yoga classes when a teacher says something so insightful, that all you can do to keep the lightbulb above your head brightly charged is reach for a pen and begin jotting down notes as quickly as possible. Almost everything Diana Vreeland uttered had dramatic flourish—she was, after all, a former dancer who understood the vital importance of gesture—but even her most outrageous-sounding phrases had a ring of truth.

“A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later.” —Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland, a yogi? We couldn’t stop thinking about this after the film. In our yoga studies with Eric Stoneberg, Zhenja La Rosa, Susanna Harwood Rubin, Julie Dohrman, Douglas Brooks and others, I have heard the following expression countless times: “Turn your kleshas into lakshmis.” More plainly stated, this means turn your imperfections (kleshas are stains or flaws) into an emblem of distinction (lakshmis are boons), for they are what make you unique in the world. This idea has its roots in the story of Hanuman, the monkey god, whose own flaw -- a scar on his jaw -- serves to remind him, and therefore us, of our innate gifts and the significance of our experiences. 

“You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive.” —Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland understood the value of kleshas better than most, and throughout her career as fashion editor first at Harper’s Bazaar, then at Vogue, she championed the unusual (Mick Jagger’s lips, Penelope Tree’s wide-set eyes, Lauren Hutton’s gap-toothed smile,) and the cast-aside (freckles, noses, pearls.) Her own looks were hardly conventional, and “(…) instead of concealing her so-called flaws, (…) Vreeland transformed them into a mark of her elegance by emphasizing them. She cropped her black hair and wore it back to reveal her severe profile and set off her pale skin with rouged cheekbones and scarlet fingernails.” Rather than stew about her jolie laide deficiencies, she chose instead to celebrate her individuality.

“To find beauty in imperfection, in flaw, to go against the common popular opinion of what is good, what is right. That kind of challenging eye, and the ability to find beauty in anything, that was what was so extraordinary about her.” —Marc Jacobs, Allure

The teachings of yoga don’t just come from ancient scripture. Sometimes they’re right in front of your nose, at the movies or in fashion magazines.