Upon hearing that Gloria Vanderbilt passed away yesterday at the age of 95, I immediately reached for “The World of Gloria Vanderbilt,” which sits on my coffee table. Written by Wendy Goodman with a foreword by Anderson Cooper, this 224-page tome was first published by Harry N. Abrams on January 1st, 2010. It is a highly informative, entertaining, and visual windfall. I have looked through the pages many times.
Wendy had special access to Vanderbilt for this book. The illustrations include portraits of Vanderbilt and her extraordinary homes. They are filled with original and influential decorating ideas, by such photographic legends as Richard Avedon, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Inge Morath, Horst P. Horst, Francesco Scavullo, and Annie Leibovitz.
The New York Magazine Design Editor effectively connected the dots between Gloria’s artwork, her quilts, her collages, her home décor, and her style. Seeing the symbiotic connection between these elements is an endless source of inspiration. Brendan Gill, who wrote a story about Ms. Vanderbilt for Vogue in 1975, referred to her U.N. Plaza apartment as a “print-lined floating bubble where her works co-existed happily with her possessions.”
Yesterday I reached out to Wendy who stated: “Gloria was astounding and there is no one that we can compare her to. She honestly was enchanted in a way I have never experienced, a down to the bone romantic who lived with and for love. I am devastated by her passing but so grateful that I knew her and spent the time I did with her. She was a gift.” When I asked if she had a favorite photo in the book, she said, “The Avedon portrait on the cover. This was the one picture I dreamed would be on the cover,” she said.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Vanderbilt in 1976 when I was a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and she had just launched her eponymous blue jean line. I remember her as gracious, warm, and welcoming. The late designer, artist, socialite, and mother is now the subject of considerable media interest since her death. She was extraordinary on many levels; her talent knew no bounds. I have always been mesmerized by her.
Gloria’s style, predicated on the perfect confluence of art and fashion, has always resonated with me. There are so few women who have such a unique and individual beauty and authentic, personal sense of style. She and her late husband Wyatt Cooper were the first couple named to Eleanor Lambert’s first Best Dressed List in 1969.
Ms. Vanderbilt had enormous wealth and great taste. She had flair and intuitive creativity, and always brought a sense of drama that was idiosyncratic. It is hardly surprising to learn that as a child, she was creative in her appearance.
Gloria had access to the best of the best, but it was the way she created her environment and presented herself to the world that was most memorable. Her sense of proportion, masterful use of color, and joyful whimsy made a difference. Gloria is the definition of a modern woman. She broke the rules and made up her own.
In 1976 she changed her look. Gloria stopped wearing Mainbocher and with the help of Adolfo, created a new, collage-like way of dressing. It was called ‘bits and pieces dressing’ and was known to combine things like gold lamé vests and harem pants with a ruffled shirts garnish with loads of fake jewelry.
Gloria loved covering up rather than baring skin and favored high collars, ruffles, and chokers that drew attention to her face. She was fond of costume jewelry which on her, always looked like priceless heirlooms. She gravitated to chunky weighty statement pieces and often piled on silver tribal necklaces, diamante jewelry, and layers of pearls. She was the opposite of a minimalist but never looked garish or overdone.
Nowadays, the phrase “fashion icon” is bantered around so indiscriminately that it has lost much of its meaning. But when applied to Gloria, who was indeed one of a kind, no other expression fits as well.