She arguably created the first designer jeans for women and made her glamorous, aspirational style accessible to all.
Gloria Vanderbilt, who died on Monday at 95, sold a piece of the American dream through her eponymous fashion brand, launched in the 1970s. The actress, socialite and heiress (who was the great-great granddaughter of 19th century railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt) was one of the first fashion designers to offer shoppers an aspirational brand based on her glamorous image.
“Vanderbilt was among the first East Coast blue blood beauties to wear made-to-measure finery by Hollywood costume and fashion designer Howard Greer, who created her wedding dress for her marriage to agent Pat DiCicco,” said fashion expert Bronwyn Cosgrave. “At places like L.A.’s Ciro’s and the Cocoanut Grove, Vanderbilt donned Greer’s so-called ‘table top’ dresses — gowns designed to look glamorous from the waist up while photographed sitting at nightclub tables — which made Vogue and Harpers Bazaar take note and look to Hollywood.”
Vanderbilt made her mark on American fashion by debuting what was arguably the first designer denim brand. After working as an actress, starting in the ‘50s, moving from theater productions to television dramas, Vanderbilt experimented with textile and home design in the ‘70s, also designing some dresses. This ultimately led to a partnership with Mohan Murjani of the Murjani Group to design blouses and then to launch her eponymous Gloria Vanderbilt fashion brand in 1976 with a line of name-brand women’s jeans, identified by her handwritten name embroidered on the back and a signature swan logo on the inner front pocket that winked at her first theater role in The Swan.
Vanderbilt, who began modeling when she was a teenager, served as the face of the label. The jeans were marketed with a $1 million television ad campaign, touting their perfect tapered fit that catered to women’s curves, making sleek designer denim a chic wardrobe staple. The jeans were also showcased by female stars such as Debbie Harry of Blondie (who made an ad for the brand) and on sitcoms Three’s Company, Mork and Mindy, and Dynasty. The line ultimately expanded to include additional women’s apparel, footwear, jewelry, fragrance and home accessories.
In 2002, the Jones Apparel Group acquired the rights to Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp. Three years later, the company issued a reboot of the original ‘70s designs with an ad campaign featuring supermodels Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss and Daria Webowy.
“Gloria was an icon,” Tommy Hilfiger told The Hollywood Reporter. “I met her in the early ’80s through the Murjani family who owned the Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans business. We were launching the Tommy Hilfiger business with Murjani around the same time. She was a lovely, sophisticated woman with warmth and kindness.”
In 2017, Vanderbilt joined Instagram (telling W magazine in an interview on the topic: “I love following Mia Farrow, DVF, Aurelia Thiérree is lovely and fascinating, Andy Cohen of course, and Kelly Ripa, Sarah Jessica Parker…”)
Following her death on Monday, many stars offered tribute on Instagram. Actress Debi Mazar posted: “R.I.P. to the amazing #GloriaVanderbilt. I admired her since I was a teenger…from her jeans (which I wore in high school) to Gloria’s beauty, strength & wit. She was one of my favorite style icons. What an incredible life!”