“Gloria. Athena. Athena. Gloria!”

Left: Gloria Vanderbilt wearing Mainbocher Photograph by Richard Avedon for Harper’s Bazaar June 1955 Right: Athena Calderone in her Tribeca apartment wearing KHAITE AND Tiffany & Co. jewelry Photograph by Clement Pascal for The New York Times.

In addition to pondering Jane Birkin’s unique fashion persona these past few weeks, I’ve considered how few individuals have such an authentic, unique individual style. Many “wannabees” are trying in vain to outdo one another, but only a few, if any, come close to Jane’s magnetic fashion authority.

Of course, women with great personal style do exist. I’ve undoubtedly written about all, or most of them, at one time or another, but the one who tops my list of favorite personal inspirations is Gloria Vanderbilt, who passed away at 95 in 2019.

Gloria was a captivating beauty with an irresistible style all her own. Neither severely minimal or clownishly over the top, Gloria mastered the art of chic, but it went beyond that. Gloria knew precisely how she wanted to look, and along with Adolfo, her longtime collaborator, she created many of her fantastical outfits.

Left: Gloria Vanderbilt Courtesy of Photofest Right: Athena at home in Amagansett wearing a white shirt and black skirt from Goop’s G Label

There is only one Gloria Vanderbilt, but if I had to find a young modern counterpart today, I would say it’s Athena Calderone. An article about Athena, “What Happens When You Get So Influential That You’re Bored by Your Own Aesthetic?” was the New York Times ThursdayStyles cover story on June 22.

“I think that there’s a concept thread in almost all aspects of my life, from how I design space to how I like to cook and even how I like to dress. There’s a play on something that’s a little bit more feminine mixed with something edgy.”

Athena Calderone

Much has been written about the 48-year-old “modern tastemaker,” who was heralded as “The Queen of muted interiors.” Still, instead of focusing on Athena’s sophisticated fashion sense, the articles tend to emphasize Athena’s often copied aesthetic, her wildly popular Instagram account, EyeSwoon @eyeswoon, which has more than 1 million followers, her successful Crate & Barrel collaboration, and her (and husband Victor’s) profitable forays into real estate.

The family owns a home in Amagansett and recently moved from their much-photographed Cobble Hill townhouse to a $6.3 million dollar apartment in Tribeca that once belonged to famed architect Thierry Despont.

Left: Gloria wearing Mainbocher and Schlumberger jewelry Photograph by Richard Avedon, Harper’s Bazaar, April 1960 Right: Athena wearing a Jason Wu dress and Chanel shoes standing outside Tiffany & Co.

Gloria and Athena have many undeniable differences (they represent different eras, come from different backgrounds, and have quite different aesthetics). Still, there are uncanny similarities, from their artful approach to life to their physical resemblances. Both have blunt cut, ink-black straight hair (Athena cut hers a few years ago and has never looked better), porcelain skin, high cheekbones, and enviable lithe frames, which make them perfect mannequins.

Vanderbilt was an heiress and socialite, born into a life of wealth and privilege. Still, she forged her identity as an artist, author, actress, and fashion designer through diligence and hard work. Vanderbilt was so prolific it prompted Life magazine to dub her “a feminine version of the Renaissance Man” in 1968.

Left: Gloria in her New York apartment Photograph by Horst Right: Athena wearing Christopher Esber in the garden of her Brooklyn townhouse Photograph by @william.jess.laird

Unlike Vanderbilt, Athena did not grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth, but like Gloria, Athena created her universe through persistence and meticulous attention to detail. The interior designer, lifestyle blogger, author, home chef, mother, and wife is involved in many creative endeavors and appears to do them all well.

What always struck me about Gloria was her consistent aesthetic. It was manifested in every facet of Gloria’s life, from her artwork to her home. Gloria’s lavishly decorated rooms, whether in New York or at Summertime, her Southampton residence, often served as impeccable backdrops for Vanderbilt’s divine, often theatrical fashion sense.

Left: Gloria standing in the kitchen of her U.N. Plaza apartment in 1975, Photograph by Horst Right: Athena in her Amagansett kitchen wearing a dress by Wiggy Kit

One of the most memorable images of Gloria shows her in the kitchen wearing an apron printed with the same pattern as the wallpaper. Even the color of the vegetables on the counter is in harmony.

Left: Gloria in New York wearing her signature jeans latimes.com Right: Athena at home wearing KHAITE and Chanel shoes

Similarly, Athena is constantly posting pictures of herself on @eyeswoon, creating a meal in one of her gorgeous kitchens, lounging on a sumptuous couch of her own design in the living room, posing in one of her marble tiled bathrooms burning with the incense of her own creation, or simply standing in an entryway. Regardless of whether Calderone is dressed up or dressed down, like Gloria, her fashion choices are always well-considered and in perfect accord with her surroundings.

Left; Gloria at home in NY in March 1976 Photo by Susan Wood for Getty Images Right: Athena wearing denim by KHAITE, Photograph by @jennasaraco.

Gloria had a very romantic, fanciful side; she loved to accessorize and was often photographed wearing piles of pearls or rhinestones. Gloria also understood the power of simplicity, which underlines Athena’s minimalistic aesthetic. In the end, both know that nothing can beat a great white shirt, a perfect pullover with well-cut trousers, or denim (Gloria revolutionized jeans in the’ 70s).

Left: Gloria at home in Southampton with one of her collages Photograph by Scavullo Right: Athena wearing Chanel at the Chanel couture show in Paris in July

You rarely see images of Gloria or Athena wearing fussy prints or glaring colors. Black, white, ivory, muted green, and blue are their hues of choice. Athena does not decorate with pastel gingham pillows like Gloria did, nor does she create collage artworks that simulate gingham. Still, she’s not averse to wearing pastel gingham when the label is Chanel, and she’s in Paris attending the Chanel couture show.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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