She Was Already Famous. Then Came an Idea for Jeans

Gloria Vanderbilt's snug line made her a household name in the 1970s
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2019 2:10 PM CDT
She Was Already Famous. Then Came an Idea for Jeans
Gloria Vanderbilt, in 1964.   (AP Photo, File)

Gloria Vanderbilt, an heiress who went on to have her own remarkable success in multiple fields, is dead at age 95. One common denominator about the obituaries cataloging her life is that they need a lot of room, given that she had been making headlines since she was a child and at the center of a bonkers custody dispute. More recently, she teamed with son Anderson Cooper in 2016 to write a memoir. Some highlights:

  • The jeans: People has the story on how the already famous Vanderbilt made herself a household name in the 1970s with her form-fitting denim jeans. When talking with a business associate in New York City, he mentioned a surplus of denim in Hong Kong. "So I said, 'Why don't we make jeans, a really great fit jean?'" They were a huge success, with Vanderbilt herself appearing in ads and becoming one of the most recognizable women in the nation. The jeans' embroidered swan logo became iconic.
  • The basics: For a good primer on Vanderbilt's life, see this 7-minute video from son Anderson Cooper.

  • An early nickname: She was the granddaughter of 19th-century railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, though her father was an alcoholic gambler and her mother a much younger socialite, per the Washington Post. After her father died, Vanderbilt was involved in a scandalous custody dispute between her mother and a paternal aunt. The aunt won. At one point in court, Vanderbilt said her mother "has never been nice to me." When the judge said she might learn to love her mother, Vanderbilt responded, "No. She never even kissed me goodnight." The press dubbed her the "poor little rich girl."
  • Model for Holly? The New York Times notes that friend Truman Capote is believed to have modeled Breakfast at Tiffany's character Holly Golightly after her in 1958. It adds that she had affairs with Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Howard Hughes, and Marlon Brando, along with four marriages, including to director Sidney Lumet. The last marriage was to Anderson Cooper's father, Wyatt Cooper, who died at age 50 in 1978.
  • The worst detail: Vanderbilt witnessed her 23-year-old son, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, kill himself by leaping from a 14th-floor terrace in Manhattan in 1988. He was Anderson's brother. She wrote about her attempt to cope with the grief in A Mother's Story in 1996 and again in 2016 in her joint book with Anderson, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. (See him interview her here.)
  • Much more: She was an actress, model, writer, and painter, in addition to all the above, per the AP. She even wrote an erotic novel at age 85. "I don't think age has anything to do with what you write about," she said at the time. "The only thing that would embarrass me is bad writing, and the only thing that really concerned me was my children. You know how children can be about their parents. But mine are very intelligent and supportive."
(More Gloria Vanderbilt stories.)

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