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August 30 2014

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A Jean Queen, In Words And Pictures

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Gloria Vanderbilt has worn many hats in her day, from society bride at 17 to erotic novelist at 85. In between, she’s been a fabric designer, a decorator, a fixture on the Best Dressed lists, and—most pertinent to us—a bestselling fashion designer. Anyone who’s ever scoured eBay for a pair knows the allure of her Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. They were introduced in the late seventies—one of the first designer denim debuts—and cut to flatter, Fiorucci-style. (That’s the clear message of this promo shot from 1979, starring Vanderbilt and a host of GV-clad models; she recalls being “horrified” at the photographer’s request that the girls bend over to better illustrate the jeans’ shape.) They’re still a good buy if you can find an old pair—our own beauty editor wore hers to the office last week, to a raft of compliments. (Not sure we can say the say about Vanderbilt’s “playwear,” a precursor of sorts to the designer sweat suit, though this TV ad for the line from 1980 is worth a watch.)

Her whole trajectory is mapped in Wendy Goodman’s new tome, The World of Gloria Vanderbilt ($40, out November 1), which is filled with photos of the woman throughout the years, in a series of palatial, fabric-lined apartments, and an empress’ collection of her own dresses. “My mom comes from a time and place that no longer exist,” her son, Anderson Cooper, writes in his foreword to the book. “I used to think of her as an emissary from some distant solar system; a visitor to our shores.” It’s a visit Goodman lovingly chronicles. And as for Anderson, the silver-maned CNN anchor appears frequently throughout, too—most memorably as a burbling infant snapped by no less than Diane Arbus.

Photo: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

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Dept. of Culture