Saturday, January 29, 2011
This is a glossy coffee table book full of great photos of early-60s minimalist fashion designed (or some say, copied) by Oleg Cassini. But as far as I'm concerned, the photos aren't the best part, the letters from Mrs. K (later Mrs. O) are. From the letters, it's easy to see why Jacqueline Kennedy is considered one of the best dressed First Ladies ever; she sure knew her mind when it came to clothes.
Take this letter from February 1961:
Now for Spring, let's get 1 beautiful wool suit -- bright color, 1 with reversible jacket, a daytime tailored coat, wool, but not too heavy -- to wear over anything -- maybe pale yellow fleece or gray? Three daytime linen or shantung [dresses] one with a jacket, one with nothing, one with a coat? Or maybe two with jackets? O three dressier afternoon dresses 2 pc shantung with straw hat, white with black polka dots, another not too decollete, 1 flowered chiffon for garden party or short evening, 1 lace dress with matching coat, another fabulous long evening dress. What will I wear over the straw one and ribbed organdie when I go out -- stole? nothing? Send me sketches then I'll be set till fall, except for a couple of Summer things to wear at the cape . . .
I don't think military campaigns are planned in such detail. Other correspondence makes it obvious why these letters weren't published until after the former First Lady's death. Like this one, dated December 31, 1960, giving Cassini his initial instructions via a numbered list of orders:
6) I seem to be all set for evening. Now would you put your brillian mind to work for day -- coats -- dresses for public appearances -- lunch & afternoon that I would wear if Jack were President of FRANCE --très Princesse de Rethy mais jeune . . .
. . .
7) PUBLICITY -- One reason I am so happy to be working with you is that I have some control overy my fashion publicity which has gotten so vulgarly out of hand . . .
8) COPIES -- Just make sure no one has exactly the same dress I do -- the same color or material -- Imagine you will want to put some of my dresses in your collection -- but I want all mine to be original and no fat little women hopping around in the same dress. You know better than I how to protect ourself against other manufacturers running up cheap copies-- I really don't care what happens later as long as when I wear it first it is new & the only one in the room . . .
. . .
9) Plan to stay for dinner every time you come to D.C. with sketches -- & amuse the poor President & his wife in that dreary Maison Blanche . . .
Not too much of a snob, was she?
Pity later First Ladies, who had to buy their clothes off the runway, if not off the rack. And can you imagine if any political wife in the past 20 years wrote a letter with the phrase "fat little women hopping around in the same dress . . .?" Or saying she wanted to dress like the First Lady of *gasp!* France???? The letter (more likely e-mail) would probably be leaked to TMZ, or show up on Wikileaks, and political disaster would follow. How times have changed.