The great-great-great-granddaughter of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, “Little” Gloria Laura Vanderbilt was born into a life of wealth, fame and privilege on February 20, 1924. Her mother’s family were diplomats and judges. Her father Reginald Vanderbilt was heir to the fortune and a horse-breeder, playboy and alcoholic gambler who died when she was just 17 months old. She married four times, having two sons with her second husband, conductor Leopold Stokowski, and two more with the last, Mississippi writer Wyatt Cooper. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is the younger of the second two, his brother Carter tragically committing suicide in 1988 at age 23 before his horrified mother’s eyes.

Gloria’s mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, took her daughter to live in Europe after her husband died. The elder Vanderbilt enjoyed the beaches and cities of Europe, moving around quite a bit and enjoying a glitzy social life. The younger Gloria spent the majority of this time in Germany with her grandmother, Laura Kilpatrick Morgan and nurse Emma Keislich. Frightened by the growing threat of war by the Nazi regime, Morgan shipped her granddaughter off to America to live with her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (founder of the Whitney Art Museum in New York). A custody battle ensued when Vanderbilt was 10 years old, shares biography.your dictionary, which became the fodder of American tabloids. The court awarded her aunt custody, and for the next seven years, Gloria lived with her on the east coast, visiting her mother in California weekends and summers.

In June 1941 at the age of 17, Gloria went to visit her mother in Beverly Hills and, swept up by Hollywood glamour, she decided to marry PasQuale (Pat) De Cicco, a Hollywood agent. This first marriage for Ms. Vanderbilt ended after three years of verbal and physical abuse. Soon after she married Stokowski and they had two sons, Stanislaus and Christopher. This union ended after 10 years, followed by a seven year marriage to television director Sidney Lumet. Her fourth and happiest marriage was to Cooper, with whom she remained until his death in 1978.

Five years into her marriage to Stokowski, Gloria’s therapist recommended she express herself, whereupon she rented a studio and began to paint and write poetry. She also began taking acting lessons. This eventually led to her career as a commercial designer starting in 1971, when Don Hall of the Hallmark company saw her drawings in an art gallery and decided to use them in a line of paper goods. She famously got a boost from Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who featured her collage artwork on the show. A scarves collection was then adapted from her paintings, followed by a line of blouses and her most iconic claim to fame, those signature blue jeans, heralding designer jeans craze that would overtake fashion by storm in coming years.

The New York Times shares that in 1976 Murjani, a Seventh Avenue manufacturer, was looking for a name to put on its jeans to set them apart. Vanderbilt agreed. High-waisted and made from stretch denim, the jeans displayed her name on the back pocket and a little swan on the inner front pocket, a reference to Gloria’s first stage role in 1954 in “The Swan” at a theatre in Pennsylvania. Ms. Vanderbilt herself appeared in her jeans’ first commercial in 1977, which was a million dollar campaign. The gamble proved successful; the day the commercial aired, Gloria’s namesake jeans practically sold out everywhere.

By 1979 her jeans were outselling Calvin Klein, Jordache and Sasson, and in 1980, at the brand’s peak, Vanderbilt made $10 million. Not long after, she discovered she was being defrauded by her psychiatrist Christ Zois and her lawyer, his friend Thomas Andrews, to whom she had given power of attorney. Although she got some of it back via a lawsuit in 1993, she was still forced to sell off homes in order to pay back a portion of the millions owed in back taxes.

Having never had a formal design education, Vanderbilt said she never doubted her ability to recognize a good product. “It’s a matter of taste, isn’t it, sensing what can go with what?”, she was quoted, “I don’t think it has to do with education.”

Having recently succumbed to stomach cancer at age 95, Gloria Vanderbilt has made her indelible mark as a writer, artist, and fashion icon, leaving behind a wealth of True Fashionista art, books, and design. You KNOW you want to dig those jeans out and strut your stuff!


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Jennifer Johnson