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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

The style legacy of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, First Lady of Fashion

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There are few women in the 20th century who captured the public imagination in the way achieved by the former First Lady of the United States of America. Young and beautiful with a handsome husband and two children, Jackie Kennedy encapsulated the American Dream at the start of the 1960s and her understanding of fashion was instrumental in the dawn of the Camelot era…

In a time of immense cultural and political evolution the new president and his family were seen to be the bastion of change. The union of the blue-blooded Bouviers and the powerful Irish Kennedys, John and Jackie were seen as the new face of America. With their vitality, good looks and Democratic beliefs Jackie understood the power of media, of ‘the visual’ and of what the Presidency, the White House and the First lady could represent.

From her first day in residence as First Lady, Jackie initiated a full restoration of the White house, the restoration of its interiors and the hunt for all the missing furniture and objet d’arts taken by previous presidential families. She understood the power of the House and that it could represent far more than just the working home of the president; she understood the White House and its residents should be the beacon of the United States of America.

While the White House was being restored and her husband was instigating huge change within America and forging unheard of political allegiances around the globe, Jackie started work upon her own appearance as First Lady. Her initial white house portrait sketch by Shikler shows a romantic, delicate Jackie dressed in a Sybil Connolly pleated linen maxi skirt and silk shirt. However, she soon developed a unique, urban style that is still upheld as the ultimate in chic.

Working closely with her friend, the designer Oleg Cassini, Jackie looked to the latest silhouettes of Parisian haute couture for her new ‘uniform’. Box cut jackets, three quarter length sleeves, on the knee skirts and single, bright block colouring became her benchmark. Focussed upon tailoring in fine wools, jerseys and brocades rather than more whimsical or delicate designs, Jackie quickly became a fashion phenomenon and her wardrobe the subject of scrutiny around the world.

 

One of the first women of the 20th century to realise the commercial influence of her appearance, while Jackie loved Parisian haute couture she generally engaged Bergdorf Goodman, Chez Ninon or Oleg Cassini to recreate designs by Dior, Givenchy and Balenciaga so ensuring that the First Lady was seen to always ‘wear American’. There were exceptions to this rule where again Jackie understood the power of fashion; for example the Givenchy haute couture embroidered gown and evening cape worn for the first State Dinner in Paris.

In the 1960s, whether you Marilyn, Sophia, Gina, Ava or Elizabeth, you paid for your clothing and Jackie was no exception; her wardrobe bill for 1962 was over $150,000 in comparison to her husband’s $100,000 salary as president of the United States of America.

Following the assassination of Jack in 1963 and her second marriage to Aristotle Onassis, Greek shipping magnate and one of the richest men in the world, Jackie Kennedy came to be known as ‘Jackie O”. Her wardrobe changed accordingly and the less formal, less considered wardrobe of a glamorous, chic billionairess emerged; the famous huge sunglasses, the longer and looser hair and a wardrobe packed with the original French haute couture followed….Courréges, Saint Laurent, Ungaro, Dior and every major Parisian couture house became a part of the wardrobe of the world’s most stylish woman.

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