In 2014, Alexander Vreeland and his wife Lisa launched a fragrance collection inspired by his grandmother, the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Although she passed away in 1989, the cult of her personality still resonates in the publishing industry today. "We all have this sort of idea about Diana Vreeland," says photographer Inez van Lamsweerde. "There’s something about her that lives inside every one of us in the fashion business. Historically, though, there’s so much that you think is her that might completely not be her. The spirit of anything goes, of eccentricity, of bold beauty. This love of high and low next to each other. Her outspokenness and humor. It’s all there, we all sort of inhaled it."
Inspired by the collection, van Lamsweerde and her husband Vinoodh Matadin, who are longtime friends of the family, proposed an idea one night over dinner. "We were talking about the fragrances and I said, ‘We should do a series of still lives based on the feeling of each fragrance,'" she explained. "Concentrating not so much on the scents, but on their names and intentions.’”
Alexander Vreeland immediately said yes to participating--but was clear that this was their project, and that the photographers had complete creative control. "This was not a collaboration, nor did they ask me for any suggestions," he laughs. "I just sent over the fragrances and a little description of each so they’d know."
Not that they read them.
"For this specific series, we were really not so much focusing on the flower idea," explains van Lamsweerde. "We knew it wasn’t about the ingredients. It was really about her and her spirit more than anything else."
So, they went props shopping. "We kind of scoured the city and our house, and our friends’ houses, for objects," she says. "Whenever we saw something that reminded us of her, we’d pick it up. We ended up with a huge bag of crazy things."
Three months and nine prints later, Vreeland had his first look.
"I didn’t know what I was going to get. It was just so beautiful," he recalls. "What also struck me was the huge generosity of that body of work. You can’t under-estimate what was involved with this effort. Each portrait was so thoughtful and so fresh and so specific, and so in line with their vision of my grandmother. When my grandmother was shooting something, the images were arresting, you just respected the creativity in the imagery. These are like that."
The still lives capture the legendary editor's originality and aura. Upon seeing them, Vreeland was reminded of a favorite story about her. "My grandmother had a friend who had been blind for several years. She then had surgery to regain her sight. When she came out of that whole process, my grandmother said, ‘I’m taking you to the movies.’ She took her to see ‘Deep Throat.’ Her friend said, ‘What did you do that for?’ and my grandmother replied, ‘For your first time seeing again, I wanted you to see something you’d never seen before.’”
Here, van Lamsweerde explains the stories behind each of the images.
Watch one W editor's quest for the perfect scent: