Mr. and Mrs. John F. Kennedy
were the most luminous icons of America after World War II and
after his death she persevered and cultivated a persona that was
celebrated and became a legendary fashioner of impeccable taste.
Her impact on American culture was significant. She took America
out of the staid and conservative 1950s and into the world of
classy international elegance and also became an important champion
of the arts and historic preservation. Although the world would
plunge soon after her husband's assassination into a wildly liberated
mode of often outrageous fashions and off-beat lifestyles, Jacqueline
("Jackie") Kennedy would long continue to represent
for many Americans the epitome of good taste.
She wowed them in Washington
and New York and many of the world's capitals and despite her
very soft voice she left a discrete legacy of strong commitment
to many causes. She had flair and she had substance. She was no
overnight, flamboyant but lightweight sensation but a generational
force, a madonna of the palace.
For many Americans, the
Kennedy White House years were mostly "black-and-white"
as color television was not yet widely introduced. This show may
well be an eye-opener for even many "Jackie" fans for
it truly shows off her famous and fabulous wardrobe to great advantage.
The exhibition and the excellent catalogue also accompany most
of the clothes with excellent photographs of Mrs. Kennedy wearing
In his introductory essay
to the exhibition catalogue of the clothes featured in the show,
Arthur M. Schlesinger, the historian and close Kennedy associate,
writes: "She was a woman of notable beauty, at once wistful
and luminous, and of acute intelligence and exacting expectation.
She had been reared in a class, a time, the 1940s, and a place,
Newport, Rhode Island, where young ladies were taught to conceal
their brains lest they frighten young men away. She observed the
upper class conventions, but underneath a veil of lovely inconsequence
she developed a cool assessment of people and an ironical slant
on life. One soon realized that her social graces masked tremendous
awareness, an all-seeing eye, ruthless judgment and a steely purpose.
Her response to life was aesthetic rather than intellectual of
Schlesinger continues with the observation that J.F.K. understood
and was extremely sympathetic to his wife's leanings. His own
tastes ran to architecture and literature and he asked Robert
Frost to read a poem at his inauguration. He also requested that
leading artists and writers be invited to the inauguration, which
rankled the Inauguration Committee a bit. Kennedy won that battle
and about 57 writers, composers and painters were present in the
audience, including Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden and John Steinbeck,
who remarked "What a joy that literacy is no longer prima
facie evidence of treason." The stage was set for a new
frontier in the arts as well as politics with the ascent of the
Kennedys to the American Presidency.
A passionate advocate of history, Jacqueline Kennedy "liked
to know how things began and how they evolved, and her glamorous
modernity was based on an intense curiosity about the past,"
Mr. Schlesinger observed. From the earliest days of the campaign
trail, the Inquiring Camera Girl was aware of the Kennedy Administration's
place in history, and, finding herself at the other end of the
camera's scrutinizing gaze - the cameras loved photogenic, chic,
Jackie - she played the media game to the hilt, much as Princess
Shocked at the dreary state
of the White House upon arrival at the presidential mansion, she
wanted to restore the White House to a state the Kennedy Administration
and all Americans would be proud of. Her winsome, videotaped tour
of the restored White House, which aired February 14, 1972, was
her idea and was viewed by millions of Americans who if they had
not previously been conscious of her taste now acceeded to her
proclivity towards high, classic style. She won an Emmy for public
service from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
for her televised tour of the White House.
If Jacqueline Kennedy is
someone you associate with happy memories of being a child in
the 1960s and remembering your own mother dressing like her, or
if fashion design laced with a memorable slice of American history
is your cup of tea, then "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House
Years: Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum,"
currently on view from May 1 through July 29, 2001, at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York will be worth the long lines and the
crowds at this popular exhibition.
Record lines now weave around the galleries at the Met to view
the exhibit, so take a book along for the hour-long wait and that's
on a good day. Jacqueline Kennedy and her family are very much
in the hearts of Americans and many foreign visitors as well,
judging by the German, Italian and British accents heard on the
way to the bookshop two weeks after the show opened to the public.
For those who were not around in the Kennedy years, the show will
convey the mystique and the magic of a beloved American family.
The presence of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Jackie's daughter
and now the only surviving member of America's most famous family,
lent seriousness and grace to the press preview to this exhibition
that elicits memories of good times and tragedy and the poignancy
of American glory and the penitence of American violence. Black
and white T.V. footage of John F. Kennedy's early campaign for
the Presidency shows a youthful, vigorous presidential candidate
with his equally young wife, in an era full of promise and hope
for a "New Frontier" in American politics and way of
In his Inaugural address President Kennedy defined the spirit
of his New Frontier: "The torch has been passed to a new
generation of Americans born in this century, tempered by war,
disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage,"
adding the famous lines: " Ask not what your country can
do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Mrs. Kennedy's
elegant ivory satin Inaugural gown, designed by Oleg Cassini,
is appropriately the first formal gown of the show.
The exhibition is not shown in The Costume Institute's subterranean
location in the basement and is housed on the museum's second
floor near the "premier" Impressionist galleries and
the Vermeer show and some observers have criticized the museum
with some justification for devoting "art" galleries"
for "fashion" space. The Costume Institute's space,
however, is limited and it is not surprising that the show is
Kicking off with photographs
and memorabilia of the optimistic 1960 Kennedy "campaign
trail," the show steps into its chronological slot in history,
and proceeds with "sections" or vignettes featuring
formal attire, travel outfits, riding clothes and personal favorites
presented against large photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy wearing
the outfits "in situ": at a state dinner Versailles,
walking with India's dashing Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru,
or at the Inauguration ceremony with her husband. Magazine articles,
letters and newspapers displayed with the clothes - now nostalgically
dated by black and white photographs - document the all-too-short
Kennedy "reign" from 1961-1963, which, as the whole
world knows, ended abruptly with President Kennedy's tragic assassination
in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Peering earnestly at a Time magazine cover of Jackie as
the nation's stylish First Lady, a twenty-something reporter relates
to the image and the Kennedy Years from the only perspective available
to her youthful generation as an icon, a legend, the last of the
All the clothes and objects
in the show are in the collection of the John F. Kennedy Library
and Museum or retained by the Kennedy family, unless otherwise
Hamish Bowles, the curator of the show, puts aside the dark ghosts
and skillfully uses Jacqueline Kennedy's beautiful clothes - designed
by world-famous fashion houses like Chanel, Givenchy and America's
Oleg Cassini among others to bring back the high points of the
Kennedy years in the White House, the years before Camelot and
the fairy tale were overtaken by tragedy, and to subtly expose
the intelligence, political "savvy" and enormous love
of the arts and culture which Jacqueline Kennedy brought to her
husband's administration and to her country. The show is about
a great deal more than clothes or fashion: it is about grace,
intelligence and charm American style and the timelessness of
Jacqueline Kennedy's cultural legacy.
Complementing the exhibition is the catalog "Jacqueline Kennedy:
The White House Years: Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library
and Museum," with essays by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Rachel
Lambert Mellon, and Hamish Bowles, which is available from the
museum and distributed by the Bulfinch Press in a hard-cover edition
for $50 and a paperback edition for $35.
Hamish Bowles is the European
editor-at-large of Vogue magazine and he took a leave-of-absence
from the magazine to work on the show. "Her profound influence
on the way an entire generation wanted to look, drees, and behave
cannot be overestimated. She set the standards that American women
strove to follow and, on the world stage, provided a visual metaphor
for the youth and promise of the Kennedy Administration,"
personal style," the museum's press release argued "was
a timely continuum, bridging the divide that then separated the
old world from the new, the values of assured patrician elegance
with the 'youthuake' of energy, dynamism, and forward-thinking
modernity of the later 1960s. She emerges...as at once a paradigm
of old-fashioned dignity, and an eternal cultural icon."
Parents with young teen girls sporting the popular, eyebrow-raising,
spandex grab-every-pubescent-bump-and curve-brand of attire combined
with hooker shoes take heart. Leaving nothing to the imagination
may work for young ladies now, but this show might instill in
the youngsters who attend it a hint of respect, even tolerance,
for clothes which they might associate with their mother, or even
grandma. but which nevertheless invoke admiration and awe for
the sheer sophistication and style with which this extremely young
First Lady wore them. The "less is more" modernist adage
is almost a cliché with some of the outfits: several dresses
look as though they belong on the catwalks today. True style does
not age, but remains forever young, as Rod Stewart would say.
Intelligent is a word frequently
used to describe Jacqueline Kennedy by those who knew her well,
and her educational background was impressive. Born in Southampton,
Long Island, to Janet Lee and John Vernou Bouvier III, Jacqueline
Lee Bouvier spent her childhood in New York City and Long Island.
In 1933 her sister, Caroline Lee Bouvier was born, but by 1940
both sisters were to experience the loss, the first of many, for
them of their father with the divorce of their parents. By 1942,
Jane Bouvier remarried Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr., and the family
moved to McLean, Virginia, and summered in Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1944, Jacqueline Bouvier enrolled in Miss Porter's School in
Farmington, Connecticut, where she joined the drama and riding
clubs and was editor and cartoonist for the student newspaper.
In 1947 Jacqueline Bouvier enrolled at Vassar College, beginning
her junior year in France in 1949 where she studied at Grenoble,
one of the most geographically idyllic settings for a campus in
the world, and at the Sorbonne. In 1950, she transferred to George
Washington University, where she graduated the following May with
a B.A. Degree in French Literature. In 1951, she won Vogue's
"Prix de Paris" writing contest with an entry that included
a plan for an isue of the magazine based on the theme of Nostalgia
and an essay describing three figures from history she wished
she had known: Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde and Serge Diaghilev.
That same month she was introduced to the Congressman John F.
Kennedy at a dinner party. Additional support was provided by
Condé Nast Publications, which noted, in a statement, that
Jacqueline Kennedy that as First Lady "she sould bring these
same affinities for history, high style, and poetic imagination
into the national arena, and in turn present to the world an image
of America that was sophisticated, worldly, and intelligent."
The exhibition has about
80 original costumes and accessories and "embraces key elements
from her formal White House wardrobe - what Mrs. Kennedy herself
called her 'state clothes'- as well as pieces worn during her
husband's 1960 presidenial campaign," according to the museum's
press release. In his announcement of the exhibition, Philippe
de Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum, said that
"it is appropriate indeed that the Metropolitan, an institution
with which Jacqueline Kennedy enjoyed profoundly close ties, should
celebrate the timeless impact of her extraordinary, unforgettable
grace and style." In his catalogue remarks, Mr. Montebellow
observed that "Although she atempted to temper the level
of public interest in her appearance, fascination with her style
"My mother regarded
her time in the White House as an extraordinary gift," wrote
Caroline Kennedy, her daugher and the president of the John F.
Kennedy Library Foundation, in the catalogue, adding that "she
knew she had been given the chance to play a part in history and
worked hard to be worthy of the honor. When that period of her
life came to an end she worked just as hard to ensure that the
history of that time would be preserved and made available to
In January, 1952, the young graduate began working as "The
Inquiring Camera Girl" for the Washington Times Herald."
Amongst many others she interviewed John F. Kennedy (it would
have been wonderful to be a fly on the wall at that one) and Richard
M. Nixon for her daily column. She also covered the Coronation
of Queen Elizabeth II and the first inauguration of Dwight D.
Eisenhower. She was 23 years old. On November 4, 1951, John F.
Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating Republican incumbent
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and on June 23, 1953 John F. Kennedy,
Jr. and Jacqueline Bouvier announced their engagement and were
married at Saint Mary's Church, Newport, Rhode Island, on September
Her extraordinary charm is evident throughout the show, in live
footage and in photographs, most memorably at the famous dinner
at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, June 3, 1961, hosted by the
Austrian president, where she dazzled Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
in an exquisite shell-pink, Oleg Cassini silk-georgette chiffon
evening dress embroidered with sequins, and it is clear that Khrushchev
was beguiled by her radiant appearance. He declared her dress
"beautiful" and when photographers asked him to shake
hands with President Kennedy after a day of unresolved negotiations
and tensions between the leaders of the two superpowers he replied,
"I'd like to shake her hand first."
Jackie understood the power of clothing and image and used it
to reflect the internationalism of the Kennedy Administration
and the promise of the 1960s. She was good for the Presidency
in her own right, prompting her husband to remark wittily at a
press luncheon in Paris in June 1961: "I do not think it
entirely inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I
am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I
have enjoyed it." For the dinner at the Palace at Versailles
hosted by President and Mrs. De Gaulle, Jacqueline Kennedy presented
herself in an exquisitely elegant ivory silk ziberline evening
dress designed by Hubert de Givenchy, embroidered by Hurel
with silk floss, silk ribbon and seed pearls, shown below.
Jacqueline Kennedy was criticized
for her "Francophile" fashion tendencies (Chanel, Givenchy,
Christian Dior) by Women's Wear Daily, the fashion newspaper,
and pounced on by Pat Nixon who appeared everywhere in American
clothes. With unflinching political "savvy" Jackie immediately
switched her allegiance to the American designer, Oleg Cassini,
for her "official" wardrobe, silencing the fashion mavens
who now raved about her Cassini designed outfits in the fashion
gossip columns. In her own nationally syndicated "Campaign
Wife" column, she remarked: "All this talk over what
I wear and how I fix my hair has amused and puzzled me. What does
my hairdo have to do with my husband's ability to be President?"
What she was also saying was there was more to her than her hairdo.
For this reporter, who grew up in India in the 1960s, the show
brought back wonderful childhood memories of the excitement and
admiration which Jacqueline Kennedy generated in her lifetime
wherever she went. Her "goodwill tour" of India, without
her husband, accompanied by her sister Lee Radziwill (Princess
Galitzine) is one of the highlights of the show. The photograph
at the top of this article shows Jacqueline Kennedy "aboard"
an elephant, as the guests of the Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur.
The yellow silk ziberline dress with matching stole which she
wore that day was designed by Gustave Tassell (1962) and is displayed
on a mannequin in the foreground: "With the ladies' wardrobe
in mind, Indian officials had constructed an elaborately decorated
platform so that she and Princess Radziwill could mount the flamboyantly
painted pachyderm named `Bibia' with the appropriate degree of
dignity," Hamish Bowles noted in his catalogue essay.
The apricot silk taffeta
dress, shown above with matching coat, on the second mannequin
was worn to Lake Pichola in Udaipur. "This Cassini ensemble
brilliantly served Mrs. Kennedy's needs: the fabric was rigid
enough to keep its composure in the heat of India, and its dazzling
color (appropriate to the intended setting) and sheen were calculated
to ensure that she would be instantly identifiable to the crowds
on the distant shore as they watched her boat on its way to the
Maharana of Udaipur's white palace, where she was feted that evening,"
Mr. Bowles wrote.
With the Inauguration behind her, Mrs. Kennedy had to define her
role as "First Lady," a term she detested, according
to Mr. Schlesinger, because she "thought it undemocratic;
also, 'First Lady' sounded to her like the name of a saddle horse."
"Eventually she acquiesced in the usage," Mr. Schlesinger
added. "She had lived in Washington for 18 years; her Washington
Times Herald column had shown a particular interest in
the White House and its occupants. She had a reputation for indifference
or even hostility to political life; she eventually came in fact
to enjoy politicians and their free and easy talk," Mr. Schlesinger
According to her secretary Letitia Baldridge, she had a fantastic
desire for historical knowledge. She understood that the White
House was the property of the American people and not a private
residence, and she planned to use it to honor achievements in
the arts. After Mrs. Eisenhower gave Jacqueline Kennedy an introductory
tour of the White House, Mrs. Henry ("Sister") Parish,
the decorator and a friend of Mrs. Kennedy noted that she called
her "and it was then that I realized that Jackie did not
have two big eyes - she had dozens. Every room was observed, down
to the last detail." Mr. Schlesinger wrote that the day after
Mrs. Kennedy visit Mrs. Eisenhower told J. B. West, the White
House chief user "in the voice, he noted , that she reserved
for disapproval - 'She's planning to redo every room in this house.
You've got quite a project ahead of you.'"
Jacqueline Kennedy did have
big plans for the White House, but implementing anything new in
this American institution was no simple matter. Headlines in the
newspapers declared " Kennedy's Pick Nun to decorate White
House. "Sister" Parish's name was confusing to those
who did not know she was a famous decorator.
On her first working day in the White House, Jackie met David
Finley, the chairman of the Federal Commission of Fine Arts to
discuss ways and means of soliciting gifts that would reclaim
the historical integrity of the White House, perhaps even a committee
to raise funds for the purpose. He was so delighted he made the
first donation himself, a beautiful Eighteenth Century walnut
highboy in the Chippendale style. She had a will of iron, and,
according to Mr. West, a "Do you think?" or "Could
you please" was as much a command as Mrs. Eisenhower's "I
want this done immediately."
Messing about with America's "sacred cow" also required
legal and political cover. President Kennedy got involved, and
a month after the Inauguration, on February 23, 1961, The Fine
Arts Committee for the White House became a reality, serving as
a body to "locate authentic furniture of the date of the
building of the White House (1802) and the raising of funds to
purchase this furniture as gifts for the White House." (Schlesinger).
"Everything in the White House must have a reason for being
there," Mrs. Kennedy told Hugh Sidey of Life magazine:
"It would be sacrilege merely to redecorate it, a word I
hate. It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration.
That is a question of scholarship."
With flawless political instincts, Mrs. Kennedy had the foresight,
at the suggestion of Jayne Wrightsman, to persuade Henry Francis
Du Pont, a Republican whose renown collection of American furnishings
and decorative arts were displayed at his very impressive museum,
Winterthur near Wilmington, Delaware, to become chairman of the
Fine Arts Committee for guiding the acquisitions policy toward
exemplary American pieces. Even the staunchest critics could not
find fault with Du Pont's credibility and connoisseurship.
In his memoir, "Upstairs
in the White House (1973), Mr. West provided the following commentary
about Mrs. Kennedy:
"In public, she was
elegant, aloof, dignified, and regal. In private, she was casual,
impish, and irreverent. She had a will of iron, with more determination
than anyone I have ever met. Yet she was so soft-spoken, so deft
and subtle, thta she could impose that will upon people without
their ever knowing it."
Mr. Schlesinger added the
"Relaxed and uninhibited,
she was always popping up everywhere, wearing slacks, kicking
off her shoes, sitting on the floor, hair flying in every direction.
She poked fun at everything, including herself. she was highly
organized but rarely held herself to a schedule."
Formal State dinners were re-invented and exuded imagination and
style. Convivial round tables seating 8 or 10 replaced the formidable,
conversation-stopping "E" shaped tables of the past.
The First Lady's choice of fashions, food, flowers and music were
carefully orchestrated to protect and reinforce the Kennedy image
of vital intelligence, high culture and youthful sophistication.
"Her style was not vanity but a way of living, not simply
adorning herself but expressing her vision of beauty in the world,"
wrote Richard Martin, the late Curator of the Metropolitan Museum
of Art's Costume Institute, maintaining that she inspired millions
of Americans to embrace the arts and historic preservation as
important parts of national policy.
While the clothes might strike many as the focus of the show and
there are superb examples on display for others, it will be her
love of the arts and culture, in addition to the clothes, which
leaves a lasting impression. The absence of pants, or pantsuits
except in the equestrienne "vignette" show her observation
of the lady-like proprieties in her public and official roles
although she enjoyed wearing them in private. Fast-forward to
Hillary Rodham Clinton's pantsuits custom made by Oscar de la
Renta, and it shows how the "taboos" have been overturned
for women since Jackie's and our own mother's day. It is interesting
to note that despite the high-ranking designer clothing she favored,
the clothes did not wear her she wore them. In all aspects of
her life she was very much her own person at a time when the majority
of women were expected to play the supportive, but never the equal,
component in a marriage.
There is a wonderful "off-guard" photograph in the exhibition
catalogue of Jackie walking to a Good Friday service in Palm Beach,
Florida, at St. Edward's Church, April 20, 1962. She is dressed
elegantly though casually, exuding comfort and modernity: "She
galvanized America by eschewing the hidebound formalized elegance
of the fifties that decreed hats and cover-ups for church. Instead,
she wore a favorite sleeveless sundress by the popular 7th Avenue
manufacturer Herbert Sondheim, (father of the songwriter Stephen),
who was known for the lady-like propriety of his clothes. In a
head-scarf, goggle-eyed, white-framed glasses, and Jack Rogers
sandals, she was dressed like any other Palm Beach 'elegante,'
but much of America thought otherwise. 'Little did we realize
that we would have in Jackie, a sort of beatnik, a gilded one,
of course,' wrote one outraged citizen," Mr. Bowles wrote.
To his enormous credit,
Mr. Bowles never allows the tone of the exhibit to sink into morbidity,
especially for those who have some memory of the end of the Kennedy
era. There is an intake of breath as a giant image of husband
and wife in an intimate moment in a convertible presents itself
in the final section of the show: mercifully, it was taken a year
before the fateful ride through Dallas. The only image at the
show that causes immense sadness is the tender Richard Avedon
portrait of Mrs. Kennedy in a Givenchy dress, holding her newborn
baby, John, which appeared in Harper's Bazaar in February,
There are pictorial tributes to Jacqueline Kennedy's efforts to
save Grand Central Terminal from the wrecker's ball, and references
to the magnificent Egyptian monuments of Abu Simbel that she lobbied
the President to persuade Congress to commit funds to save from
the threat of flooding by the construction of the Aswan Dam. The
United States became the largest contributor to UNESCO'S efforts,
and as a "thank you" the Egyptian government offered
another monument that was similarly threatened. Mrs. Kennedy chose
the Temple of Dendur, which, which after some competitive institutional
jockeying, was installed in the new glass-enclosed wing of the
Metropolitan Museum in 1978. She could see it from her apartment
at 1040 Fifth Avenue when it was lit up at night.
"Working with her favored
American designer Oleg Cassini, and his team, along with other
fahiore sources, her hairdresser, Kenneth Batelle, and Halston,
and the millinery department of Bergdorf Goodman, she created
an image that blended his informed tastes in fashion with...her
new role. ...Her clothes were informed with an understated modern
elegance, characterized by cleanliness, solid colors, and ease
of movement....In the years following World War II, socially prominent
women of real personal style, such as Babe Paley, Gloria Guiness,
and C. Z. Guest, had the subtle nuances of their tastes in fashion,
decorating, and entertaining scrutinized in elitist magazines
such as Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and Town & Country,
yet their influence remained limited to their own sequestered
worlds. Instead, the potent appeal of movies, television, and
popular music guided the way woman wanted to look and behave.
Jacqueline Kennedy transformed this dynamic. She succeeded in
"redeeming fashion from the puritan ethic of sin," wrote
Marilyn Bender of the New York Times (in The Beautiful
In August, 1960, Mrs.Kennedy
wrote to Diana Vreeland that she "must start to buy American
clothes and have it known where I buy them," because of controversies
over her inclination to famous French fashion houses. Mrs. Vreeland
suggested Stella Sloat, Ben Zuckerman and Norman Norrell.
"In addition to Mrs.
Vreeland's choices, the designer Oleg Cassini, a Kennedy family
friend, proposed himself as a candidate to work withthe first
lady, apparently at the suggestion of hisbrother Igor, the influential
Hearst gossip columnist who had once named Jacqueline Bouvier
"debutante of the year." Before the November 8 electon
Oleg Cassini wrote to Mrs. Kennedy with the asssurance that '"naturally,
the dresses you get here will be specifically made for you, with
your counsel and direction and in keeping with your marvelous
sense of personal fashion. In reply Jacqueline Kennedy asked Cassini
to "get started designing me something, then send me some
sketches, and, if I like them, I can give you credit to doing
most of my Spring wardrobe....The urbane Cassini, born in Paris
to Russian citizens and raised in Florence, became an American
citizen in 1942. He had known Joseph P. Kennedy since the war.
As Cassini remembers, it was Ambassador Kennedy who encouraged
him to leave the Hollywood studio system (where he gained a reputation
at Paramount with dramatic costumes for his wife Gene Tierney's
starring vehicles in The Razor's Edge and Shanghai Gesture)
and to establish his own Seventh Avenue fashion house, whe he
did in 1950.
For the Inaugural Gala,
Cassini designed an evening gown, shown above, in ivory doubled-faced
silk satin twill. "This majestic dress, so suggestive of
a bride or a debutante, was a masterstroke of image making,"
the catalogue noted, "establishing Jacqueline Kennedy in
the national consciousness as a woman of commanding personal style,
with an unerring sense of history and of her place in it....Otherwise
stripped of embellishment, the dress has a single telling detail
in the cockade that hovers at the waist. It as an element that
pointed to Jacqueline Kennedy's pride in her French Bouvier ancestry,
her profound love of history, and her particuarly affinity with
the eighteenth century. A formalized rosette of fabric, the cockade
had its roots in the field of battle, where it was worn as a badge
of loyality, different colors indicating particular allegiances.
...An early press sketch from the Cassini studios reveals that
the designer had originally considered placing this element high
on the chest - a medal of honor, perhaps, or a winner's rosette.
During fittings it slipped to the waist, where it focused atention
instead on the break of the skirt."
Cassini's designs were very
beautiful. For an April 29, 1962 dinner at the White House honoring
Nobel prizewinners of the Western Hemisphere, he designed a "liquid,
columnar dress...suggestive of ancient statuary," according
to the catalogue. It is shown above and the catalogue also shows
a black-and-white photograph of Mrs. Kennedy wearing the dress
sitting next to Robert Frost.
While many of Cassini's
designs were classic and simple designs in the vein of Chanel
and Givenchy, he clearly had a very fine feel for even more ornate
and more spectacular designs. For a dinner at the Elysée
Palace in Paris, Cassini designed an awesome pink and white raffia
lace evening dress with scalloped edges with matching stole, a
truly ravishing and extremely feminine ensemble. For the Schönbrunn
Palace dinner with Khrushchev in Vienna, he designed a shell pink
silk-georgette chiffon evening dress embroidered with sequins
that the catalogue described as "high-voltage glamour,"
another fabulous and flamboyant knock-out.
Mrs. Kennedy would read and clip fashion magazines and get advice
from Diana Vreeland and her sister, Lee Radziwill and, according
to the catalogue, "experimented with fashionable resources
of the moment such as the Manhattan boutique A La Carte. It was
run by Joan Morse, who later became a Warhol acolyte....At the
opposite end of the spectrum was Chez Ninon, a couture salon established
by socially well connected Nona Park and Sophie Shonnard in the
late 1920s....Through Chez Ninon Jacqueline Kennedy acquired clothing
that was legitimately made in America, although designed in Paris....From
the shocking pink Cassini coat that she wore on her arrival in
India to the shining yellow Tassell dress that she chose for an
elephant ride, Mrs. Kennedy's every outfit was a dazzling photo
opportunity and helped to reinforce the positive world view of
Another Joan Morse for A
La Carte was a hot-pink-and-gold-silk organza and metallic broacaded
silk organza evening dress and cape, 1962, that was sensationally
dazzling, shown above.
More personally, Jacqueline
Kennedy was deeply involved with the John F. Kennedy Center for
the Performing Arts in Washington and intended to honor the memory
of her husband and his commitment to the arts. She also chose
the site for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, which was
dedicated on October 20, 1979, and worked closely with the architect
I.M. Pei on its realization. She began a career as a literary
editor in New York City in 1975 after the death of her second
husband, Aristotle Onassis. She worked at Viking Press and at
Doubleday and Company, and she edited the books for several exhibitions
at the Costume Institute, then under the aegis of Diana Vreeland,
among them "Vanity Fair" (1977) and "Costumes of
Royal India" (1985). Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in New
York on May 19, 1994, and is buried next to John F. Kennedy at
Arlington National Cemetery.
On October 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy said at a speech
at Amherst College: "I look forward to an America that will
not be afraid of grace and beauty that will reward achievements
in the arts as well as achievement in business or statecraft"
With these words he echoed his wife's deepest wishes.