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PRINT EDITION
SOCIETY HEIRESS BECAME A FASHION ICON
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Fearless artist and romantic rose to early prominence for her family name before striking out on her own and launching a designer-jeans revolution
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By ULA ILNYTZKY
ASSOCIATED PRESS
  
  

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019 – Page B23

NEW YORK -- Gloria Vanderbilt, the intrepid heiress, artist and romantic who began her extraordinary life as the "poor little rich girl" of the Great Depression, survived family tragedy and multiple marriages and reigned during the 1970s and 80s as a designer-jeans pioneer, died on Monday at the age of 95.

Ms. Vanderbilt was the greatgreat-granddaughter of financier Cornelius Vanderbilt and the mother of CNN newsman Anderson Cooper, who announced her death via a first-person obituary that aired on the network Monday morning.

Mr. Cooper said Ms. Vanderbilt died at home with friends and family at her side. She had been suffering from advanced stomach cancer, he said.

"Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms," Mr. Cooper said in a statement. "She was a painter, a writer and designer, but also a remarkable mother, wife and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they'd tell you she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern."

Her life was chronicled in sensational headlines from her childhood through four marriages and three divorces. She married for the first time at 17, causing her aunt to disinherit her. Her husbands included Leopold Stokowski, the celebrated conductor, and Sidney Lumet, the award-winning movie and television director. In 1988, she witnessed the suicide of one of her four sons.

Tributes online came from celebrities and fans of her clothes alike. Alyssa Milano called her "an incredible woman," Dana Delany said she treasures one of Ms.

Vanderbilt's paintings and model Carol Alt hailed her as a "fashion icon and innovator." One Twitter user mourned by remembering the canary Vanderbilt jeans she wore in junior high school.

Ms. Vanderbilt was a talented painter and collagist who also acted on the stage (The Time of Your Life on Broadway in 1955) and television (Playhouse 90, Studio One, Kraft Theater, U.S. Steel Hour). She was a fabric designer who became an early enthusiast of designer denim. The darkhaired, tall and ultrathin Ms. Vanderbilt partnered with Mohan Murjani, who introduced a US$1million advertising campaign in 1978 that turned the Gloria Vanderbilt brand with its signature white swan label into a sensation.

At its peak in 1980, it was generating more than US$200-million in sales. And decades later, famous-name designer jeans - dressed up or down - remain a woman's wardrobe staple.

Ms. Vanderbilt wrote several books, including the 2004 chronicle of her love life: It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, which drops such names as Errol Flynn, whom she dated as a teenager; Frank Sinatra, for whom she left Mr. Stokowski; Marlon Brando; and Howard Hughes.

She claimed her only happy marriage was to author Wyatt Cooper, which ended with his death in 1978 at the age of 50. Her son Anderson Cooper called her memoirs "a terrific book; it's like an older Sex and the City."

"I've had many, many loves," Ms. Vanderbilt told the Associated Press in a 2004 interview. "I always feel that something wonderful is going to happen. And it always does."

In 2016, Ms. Vanderbilt and her son appeared together in the HBO documentary Nothing Left Unsaid.

Gloria Laura Madeleine Sophie Vanderbilt was born in 1924, a century after her great-greatgrandfather started the family fortune, first in steamships, later in railways. He left around US$100-million when he died in 1877 at the age of 82.

Her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was 43, a gambler and boozer dying of liver disease when he married Gloria Morgan, 19, in 1923. Their daughter was 1 when Reginald died in 1925, having gone through US$25-million in 14 years.

Beneficiary of a US$5-million trust fund, Gloria became the "poor little rich girl" in 1934 at the age of 10 as the object of a custody fight between her globe-trotting mother and matriarchal aunt.

The aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 59, who controlled US$78-million and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, won custody of her niece.

The "poor little rich girl" nickname "bothered me enormously," Ms. Vanderbilt told the Associated Press in a 2016 interview. "I didn't see any of the press - the newspapers were kept from me. I didn't know what it meant. I didn't feel poor and I didn't feel rich. It really did influence me enormously to make something of my life when I realized what it meant."

After spending the next seven years on her aunt's Long Island estate, Ms. Vanderbilt went to Hollywood. She dated celebrities and declared she would marry Mr. Hughes. Instead, the 17-yearold wed Mr. Hughes's press agent, Pasquale Di Cicco, prompting her aunt to cut her out of her will.

Ms. Vanderbilt came into her own US$5-million trust fund in 1945 at the age of 21. She also divorced Mr. Di Cicco, whom she said had beaten her often, and the next day married the 63-yearold Mr. Stokowski. The marriage to the conductor lasted 10 years and produced two sons, Stanislaus and Christopher.

Ms. Vanderbilt married Mr. Lumet in 1956 and lived with him and her children in a 10-room duplex penthouse on Gracie Square in New York. She divorced Mr. Lumet and married Wyatt Cooper in 1963.

Their elder son, Carter, a Princeton graduate and editor at American Heritage, killed himself in 1988 at the age of 23, leaping from his mother's 14th-floor apartment as she tried to stop him. Police said he had been treated for depression and friends said he was despondent over a breakup. Ms. Vanderbilt says in Nothing Left Unsaid that she contemplated following him out the window, but the thought of how it would devastate her other son stopped her.

After her success in designer jeans, Ms. Vanderbilt branched out into other areas, including shoes, scarves, table and bed linens and china, through her company, Gloria Concepts. In 1988, Ms. Vanderbilt joined the designer fragrance market with her signature "Glorious."

By the late 1980s, Ms. Vanderbilt sold the name and licences for the brand name "Gloria Vanderbilt" to Gitano, who transferred it to a group of private investors in 1993. More recently, her stretch jeans have been licensed through Jones Apparel Group Inc., which acquired Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp. in 2002 for US$138-million.

In 2009, the 85-year-old Ms.Vanderbilt penned a new novel, Obsession: An Erotic Tale, a graphic tale about an architect's widow who discovers a cache of her husband's letters that reveal his secret sex life.

In an interview with The New York Times, she said she wasn't embarrassed about the explicitness of her new book, saying: "I don't think age has anything to do with what you write about.

The only thing that would embarrass me is bad writing."

Associated Graphic

In addition to being a celebrity, author, visual artist and fashion mogul, Gloria Vanderbilt, seen in her New York studio in 2009, is remembered as a loving friend and mother.

TONY CENICOLA/NYT


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