The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 6, 2001 · Page 63
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 63

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 6, 2001
Page 63
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Fashion Jackie style A shimmering exhibit of her dresses proves the first lady's impact far exceeds icons like Diana and Madonna. A fashion historian explains why. BY VALERIE STEELE J ACKIE KENNEDY is America's gi-eatest fashion icon. "Jackie's slightest fashion whim triggers seismic tremoi's up and down Seventh Avenue," The Ladies' Home Journal said of the fii-st lady in 1961. An entire generation of women imitated the "Jackie look." Forty yeai's later, her style legacy endm-es and is celebrated in a major exhibition, "Jacqueline Kennedy: The "White House Years" at the Costume Institute of New York's Meti'opol- itan Museum of Ai-t through July 29. But why did Jacqueline Kennedy have such an unprecedented influence on fashion? And is there a successor to her today? Of coui-se, Jackie was young, beautiful and rich, but these facts alone fail to explain her influence. In retrospect, it's cleai' that she cai-efully constinicted her image. It was never a matter of "fashion whims," and Jackie was no mere trendsetter. Chic was her birthright. Her mother and stepfather, Janet and Hugh Auchincloss, lived in a world in which socially prominent women paid a gi-eat deal of attention to dress. Some of these women, such as Jackie favorite Oleg Cassini designed the simple yet ceremonial ivory gown (left) she wore to the 1961 inaugural gala. The "cockade" at the waist pays homage to her French heritage. Babe Paley and Gloria Guinness, had gi-eat personal style, and even as a college student, Jacqueline exhibited a sunilar fashion sensibility. She had "a perfect hori'or of overdressing," her mothei''s di-essmaker recalled. She liked clean lines, and every detail had to be just so. "I flatter myself on being able at times to walk out of the house looking like a poor man's Paris copy," she wrote in an essay submitted for Voffue's 1951 Prix de Paris, "but often my mother will ran up to inform me that my left stocking is crooked or the light-hand top button about to fall off. This, I realize, is the Unforgivable Sin." Though Jackie's style was common currency within upper-class circles, it was not typical of American society at lai'ge. What Jackie did was to make that style visible to a national and international audience. After all, in 1960, most American women dressed more like Mamie Eisenhower than like Jackie Kennedy and her friends, whose fashion sensibility was strongly influenced by Paris. The former Jackie Bouvier loved everything about Prance, especially French fashion. Her favorite designer was Hubert de Givenchy, who dressed Audrey Hepburn. She also liked Balenciaga's sophisticated clothes and Chanel's ladylike suits. But when JFK ran for president, Jackie's taste in clothes came imder hostile scratiny from unions and Republicans. "Those smart and chai'ming Kennedys are inmning for election on the Pai-is couture ticket," declared Women's Wear Daily. The paper reported that Jackie and her mother-in-law. Rose Kennedy, spent a combined $30,000 a year on French fashion. "I couldn't spend that much unless I wore sable under- weai'," Jackie memorably protested. But after it became an issue, Jackie announced that thenceforth she would buy only American clothes. Enter Oleg Cassini, a family friend and former Hollywood designer. Over the years, many people have assumed that Cassini was responsible for creating Jackie's look, but that vras not the case. Jackie was always in charge of her personal image. She sent Cassini sketches Mid photos from fashion magazmes for inspiration. She chose the materials and colors. In some cases, she even had him make line-foi'-line copies of Paris coutm-e clothing. She also bought American-made versions of Paris fashions at stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Ohrbach's. Fashion insiders recognized Jackie's understated elegance was characteristic of upper-class style. But high fashion was still unknown territoi-y for the average American, and Jackie revolutionized the taste of 12 USAWEEKEND-May 4-6,2001

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