Tag Archives: Jackie Kennedy

How Fashion Filtered Down, 1961

I thought I was finished with Cassini and Kennedy for a while, but a chance find in an antique store reminded me of this marvelous dress that Oleg designed for Jackie to wear to the Inauguration Gala in 1961.  Focus on the cockade at Jackie’s waist.  According to Hamish Bowles in Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years:

It was an element that pointed to Jacqueline Kennedy’s pride in her French Bouvier ancestry, her profound love of history, and her particular affinity with the eighteenth century.

I’m sure that to most people , it was merely a pretty ornament.  It was very interesting to find a dress that so clearly shows how elements of Mrs. Kennedy’s wardrobe were being adapted for the mass market.

I apologize for the truly terrible photos, but I’m sure you can see what I’m referring to.  Not only does this simple little black dress have the cockade, it is in the very same position as in Mrs. Kennedy’s dress.  But note also the overblouse and the two inverted pleats at the waist.  There were no labels in the dress, but it was commercially made.  One reads all the time about how influential Mrs. Kennedy was in matters of fashion, so it was interesting to see a dress that so clearly shows the influence of one particular dress.

This is the week that I normally post Vintage Miscellany, but due to other, more pressing matters, I’ve not been as much of an internet reader as usual.  Posting here may be a bit sporadic for a  while before I return to my regular schedule.

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Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing

Currently Reading : In My Own Fashion by Oleg Cassini

I’m a real fan of autobiographies.  It’s almost like the joy of knowing that one has the opportunity to tell history their way comes out in the reading of the storyteller’s words.  This book by Oleg Cassini is no different.  It’s a fun read, even if the self-proclaimed jetsetter gets a little over-confident in the telling.

Today, Cassini is pretty much remembered for two things:  the wardrobe he made for Jackie Kennedy, and the myriad of licensed products that carried his name starting in the 1960s.  His story is so much richer than those two aspects, which made for some pretty entertaining hours curled up with this one.

Cassini was, more than anything, a Hollywood designer.  He made clothes for the movies, and he dressed stars including his wife, Gene Tierney.  He eventually ended up owning his own design firm in New York, where he continued to make dresses that would have been right at home in Hollywood.  In other words, he believed that a woman needed to dress in a slightly sexy manner.  During his time in New York, Cassini became involved with Grace Kelly, whom he pursued, and he eventually convinced her to marry him.  It never happened, due partly to the strong objections of her family and to her growing fame in Hollywood.  And then before he knew it, she was swept off her feet by another.

In the 1950s, Oleg and his brother, Igor Cassini, became friends with Joe Kennedy.  According to the book, Oleg and Igor spent evenings on the town with Joe in the company of young women they brought along.  By the time John Kennedy was elected president, there were years of history between the Cassinis and the Kennedys.

By all accounts, the selection of Oleg Cassini to be the new First Lady’s unofficial fashion designer was an odd one.  His own vision of how a woman should look was very much at odds at how Jackie herself liked to dress.  According to Cassini, he began to think of the new First Lady as a character, with her clothing accentuating the role she would be playing.  Into this vision he wisely incorporated the clean Parisian couture look that so appealed to Jackie.  He then took his plans for her wardrobe to her hospital room in December 1960, as she had just given birth to John Junior.   All around her were sketches from other designers such as Norell and Sarmi.  But it was he who won out, having created a look just for her, totally unrelated to his regular design work.

As he put it,  “The clothes I designed for her – simple, elegant, classic – fit perfectly into her program.  From my knowledge of her taste, I had been able to predict her intentions.”

Unfortunately, Jackie had already put in an order at Bergdorf Goodman for her inaugural wardrobe, and according to most sources I’ve read, had asked them to provide the bulk of her wardrobe for the next four years.  The dress for the Inaugural Ball was already completed.  In the end she wore it, but Cassini insisted in his book that she always favored the dress he provided to her for the gala that was put on the night before the Inauguration.   This is probably true, as the dress he designed is one of the most famous of her time in the White House, and is pictured on the cover of Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, the companion volume to the 2001 Met exhibition of the same name.

For the next almost three years, Oleg continued to make the bulk of the First Lady’s wardrobe.  Jackie, a dedicated reader of fashion magazines, would tear out photos of dresses she loved, and Oleg would  work up a version, using the ideas she favored.  His studio had three fitting mannequins with the same figure as Jackie along with a live model who was Jackie’s size, so most of the fitting was done in New York.  Then the almost finished garments were taken to Washington by Oleg’s assistant, Kay McGowan, for the final fitting and the approval of Jackie.

One of  the biggest question marks of In My Own Fashion is the strange insistence by Cassini that the pillbox hat worn by Mrs. Kennedy for the Inauguration was not made by Halston.  He insisted that the idea was his, and that he and Diana Vreeland discussed how the hat would have to sit on the back of her head in order to not interfere with her hair style.

“Eventually we agreed that a pillbox would work; the actual execution of the hat was done by Marita at Bergdorf Goodman, Mrs. Kennedy’s preferred hatmaker.  And so it was rather surprising, many years later, to read in the New York Times that Halston had created the pillbox.  An outright lie, and an attempted revision of fashion history.”

So I turned to my fashion library to see what was written about it at the time.   According to John Fairchild, writing in his Fashionable Savages in 1965,  “Her (Mrs. Kennedy) inauguration pillbox from Bergdorf Goodman’s Halston is still selling.”

As it turns out, the Marita to whom Cassini was referring was Marita O’Connor, who was not even a milliner.  She was Jackie Kennedy’s millinery salesperson at Bergdorf Goodman.  She was well aware that Jackie favored the pillbox shape, as she had been wearing it all through the presidential campaign. It just seems natural that she would wear a pillbox, and since it was ordered from Bergdorf Goodman, that it would be made by Halston.

At any rate, it seems such a shame that Cassini seemed to have his nose so firmly out of joint in regards to the hat.  I can remember that soon before his death in 2005, he again reasserted his claim that he designed the pillbox.  It just seems to me that the accomplishment of helping create the fashion icon that is Jackie Kennedy would be enough to satisfy anyone’s ego.

Tomorrow, more on Cassini’s ready-to-wear business and his licensing empire.

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Envisioning the Perfect Dress

Bravo TV announced last week that the next season of Project Runway will debut on July 16.  I watch very few TV shows, but for a fashion lover, Project Runway is a don’t miss show.  Even non-fashionistas love it for the drama of the Parsons workroom!

I’m not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg:  the renewed interest in home sewing or Project Runway.  I know for my ownself, watching the show makes me want to dig out a pattern and go to work.  In fact, I recently decided that I needed a new sewing machine.  Considering that I’ve been limping along on my husband’s grandmother’s old Kenmore, I think I was overdue for one!

So now I’m working on my first major project, a dress for my niece’s up-coming wedding.  I had planned on wearing my newly-found black Harvey Berin dress, but I’ve just decided that it is just not festive enough.  So I went on an internet search for an early 60s cocktail dress that

1. Was not black.  2.  Was not dowdy  3.  Fit me.

Now I’ve seen hundreds of these pretty little dresses in my time, but of course the moment I go in search of one I’m not going to find a single suitable thing.  So I look through some books for inspiration, and there it is being worn by Mrs. Kennedy on a trip to India in 1962:

From Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years (You need this book)

My version will have this dress as its base:

Now to find the fabric!  I’m pretty sure I won’t buy the same shade of orange..more likely something in the blue family.

Comment:

Posted by Holly:

I remember seeing that photo of Jackie at the exhibition at the Field Museum! It really is the epitome of what I think of as her signature style. Good luck on your search for fabric. And keep us posted on the sewing progress. It sounds terribly exciting and daunting for a non-sewist. I love the pattern you’ve chosen with those scoopy princess type seams on the bodice.

Wednesday, June 18th 2008 @ 9:23 AM


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