The legacy of the Denim Diva Gloria Vanderbilt

The legacy of the Denim Diva Gloria Vanderbilt

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Gloria Vanderbilt, the society heiress who stitched her illustrious family name into designer jeans and built a $100 million fashion empire and survived family tragedy, multiple marriages, life as an heiress, artist and romantic breathed her last on Monday at the age of 95. Vanderbilt had been suffering from advanced stomach cancer and died at her home in Manhattan with friends and family at her side.

Gloria Laura Madeleine Sophie Vanderbilt was born in 1924 and began her extraordinary life as the 'poor little rich girl' of the Great Depression in 1934 at age of 10 as the object of a custody fight between her itinerant mother and matriarchal aunt. The aunt exposed her mother’s escapades and won custody of the child who was the great-great-granddaughter of the 19th-century railroad and steamship magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and termed as America’s most famous non-Hollywood child in those days.

In the mid-1970s, she became the face of a new wave that took over. At the peak of patriarchy, when even jeans were cut mostly for men, the clothing manufacturer Mohan Murjani levelled it up by signing Gloria to market jeans for women with her signature on the back pocket. She promoted them in catchy memorable television ad campaigns and public appearances. She set a whole new trend so much so that, her national in-store promotional tours were nothing short of movie-star appearances.

The Amanda jeans, among the first to have a family name in the marketing of a fashion line, emblazoned Vanderbilt's signature across the back pocket of the – as she famously put it – “really hug your derrière” fitted jeans. She consolidated her place in fashion history and built a $100m (£79m) empire.

Yet, her style legacy goes beyond the clothes she designed as other logoed items like skirts, sweaters, jackets, linens and fragrances, as well as perfumes, sheets, shoes and accessories joined her growing product lines.

Gloria went on to write several books, and it all came pouring out — poetry, short stories, novels, including erotic tales, and a series of autobiographies that peeped into her early years of isolation and struggles, middle years of tryst with romance and creativity, and later on as a wife to many, mother of four and entrepreneur. Critics applauded many of her works and she occasionally wrote for The Times, Vanity Fair and Elle too.

Vanderbilt was a talented painter and collagist and also tried a hand at acting in theatre (The Time of Your Life on Broadway in 1955) and television (Playhouse 90, Studio One, Kraft Theater, US Steel Hour).

An artist, author, actress, heiress, socialite, designer, pawn, tragic story, strong survivor, a hopeless romantic, eternal optimist, mother and wife (multiple times) - she was many things and reflected much more in her long life, but she sure left a legacy behind.

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