Tag Archives: Oleg Cassini

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.


Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing

Ad Campaign – Oleg Cassini, 1962 – 1966

This 1962 ad for York cigarettes called Oleg Cassini “the grand-entry newcomer on the fashion scene” even though by that time he had been running his Seventh Avenue business for twelve years.  It is true that it took his association with Mrs. Kennedy to put him on the mainstream fashion radar.

Cassini lost no time in capitalizing on his new-found fame.  He had already been dabbling in licenses and product endorsements, but in the early 1960s he began endorsing everything from lingerie to cigarettes.  Interestingly, he was very often pictured in the ads.

In 1963 and 1964, the “New Oleg Cassini seamless stocking” featured a series of ads with Cassini shown giving fashion advice to various women celebrities.  In addition to Carroll Baker and Carol Channing, there were also ads with Arlene Dahl, Tina Louise, Elizabeth Ashley, Carol Lawrence and Suzy Parker.

One of Cassini’s licenses was with Peter Pan lingerie and swimsuits.  1964

And who wouldn’t want a pair of diamond shaped sunglasses! 1966



Filed under Advertisements, Designers

Oleg Cassini, Part II

Yesterday I wrote about Oleg Cassini and how he became Jackie Kennedy’s dressmaker during the White House years.  For ten years before the Kennedy relationship, Cassini had run a ready-to-wear business in New York.  He was known for being independent from the work coming out of Paris; indeed, in 1957 he not only did not fall into the chemise trap, he openly ridiculed the look.  He continued to design the fitted silhouette he favored.

The work that Cassini did for Mrs. Kennedy was a separate operation from his ready-to-wear business.  Her dresses were designed strictly for her, and only her.   She actually wrote about this in a 1960 letter to Cassini:

Just make sure no one has exactly the same dress I do – the same color or material – Imagine you will want to put some of my dresses in your collection – but I want all mine to be original & no fat little women hopping around in the same dress… I really don’t care what happens later as long as when I wear it first it is new & the only one in the room.

In a 1964 interview with WWD, Cassini claimed that “my regular collection – which reflected my own personal attitudes – didn’t represent what I did for Mrs. Kennedy.”  However, you can look at clothes from his early 1960s collections and see just how much those clothes were influenced by what he was doing for Mrs. Kennedy.  He would have been crazy to do otherwise.

I hope you can look past my  poor photos (red gives me fits) to see the detailing in my early 1960s Cassini dress.  It has the typical over-blouse effect, but with tricks that Cassini used in Mrs. Kennedy’s clothes.  To make the bodice seem more form-fitting, he used princess seeming, and the skirt tucks accentuate the waist without being truly fitted.

He had a thing for large, dramatic self-covered buttons and they are seen quite often in the Kennedy wardrobe.

And while his ready-to-wear line was certainly not of the same quality as what he made for Mrs. Kennedy, it still has the nice type of dressmaker touches that you hope to see in a higher priced garment.

Not long after President Kennedy’s death in November, 1963, Cassini closed down his Seventh Avenue business so he could concentrate on his licenses.  He had been doing licenses since the mid 1950s, starting with men’s ties and women’s coats.  But being the designer for Jackie Kennedy had made Oleg Cassini a household name, and he set out to capitalize on it.  In “In My Own Fashion” he referred to his licenses as  the “Oleg Cassini Seal of Approval.”  It meant that he certified that a certain object had style, even if he had not actually designed the item.

There were Oleg Cassini scarves, shoes, jewelry and eyeglasses, as well as towels, bed sheets and luggage.   Within a few years his company was grossing $350,000,000 a year at retail.

In the early 1970s Cassini started a new clothing line in Italy, which sold well internationally, but by the 1980s the clothing made under the Oleg Cassini name was all licensed.  A quick look on Ebay or Etsy shows that the great majority of things offered under the Cassini name date from the 1980s, but if you look closely, you can find the occasional dress that was actually designed by him.  Out of the 391 Oleg Cassini clothing items on etsy, only 11 seemed to be actually his work, and I spotted only 4 items out of 119 on Ebay.  And what’s more, today there are still Oleg Cassini items being produced under licenses.

I found this dress years ago in a thrift store, and I kept it because even though it represents a very small part of the clothing produced under Oleg Cassini’s name,  it is the part that is important.  If not for the three years that he designed for Jackie Kennedy, it is very doubtful that he’d be known for anything other than a Hollywood marriage and some very sexy 1950s frocks.

Some label hints when looking at Oleg Cassini:

The label I’ve shown, plus a similar one in black with white print and a gold crest, are the labels from the 1950s and 60s.  The problem is that the 1980s label is very similar.  All of Cassini’s actual designs were made in New York, and the labels were hand sewn into the dresses, often at the waist.  If a label says “Made in Hong Kong” or “China,” it is newer.  If the label is machine stitched into the dress, it is newer.



Filed under Designers

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.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers