Dear Scandal Junkies:
I've been following the recent fracas that has erupted concerning Mrs. de la Renta's displeasure over Michael Gross's latest expose of New York's hallowed inhabitants and institutions: Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. Though I've not read it yet, I'm sure it's packed with many meticulously documented, clutch-the-pearls anecdotes like the ones found in some of his previous works, such as 740 Park and Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren.
A hilariously written blog post and interview by the mysterious "Madame Arcati" documents de la Renta's attempt to suppress all media coverage of Gross's book. (Make sure you read the equally hilarious reader comments, as well).
I for one am not surprised that someone on The Met's A-list would resort to undemocratic tactics to quash any and all voices who dare to cast their social order in an unfavorable light. I was a victim of the Met Costume Institute's ire when I penned what was deemed an unflattering and irreverent piece about their Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit for DUTCH magazine back in late 2001. After attending a press luncheon with Harold Koda and Hamish Bowles to preview the show, I met with the Costume Institute's publicist (I can't remember the girl's name but I'm sure she's run off and married a once-rich banker and left The Met). She assured me that since I was covering the exhibit for DUTCH (the magazine was at the height of its buzz and influence at the time) that of course I would be invited to the Met Gala for the show's launch. Your invitation is already in the mail, she basically implied. Eight bottles of your favorite champagne have already been reserved. Your hors d'oeuvres? We'll ensure that the varnish on them has dried well before your arrival.
However, when I mentioned that my journalism style was often humorous, she blanched. "H-h-h-humorous?" her voice trembled. As if it was just was not possible to write anything funny or, god forbid, satirical about an exhibit celebrating the holy Mrs. Kennedy. (I'm really no big fan of the Kennedys. Jack was too rabidly anti-Communism for my tastes--how was he any better than Reagan?--and while I do appreciate Jackie on a certain level, I never could abide her ascension to sainthood via the fashion world. Her greatest skill was her opportunistic ability to choose the right men to marry, and her descent into decadence and self-indulgence during her Jackie O years, while entertaining, should somehow disqualify her from sainthood).
Jackie O squeezes out a smile despite the fact that the whale-testicle-covered chairs that she ordered for the luncheon never arrived.
So, after my article on the Jackie exhibit came out in the summer issue of DUTCH, I waited for my Met Gala invite to arrive in the mail. But every day was a Charlie Brown-like mailbox experience. ("What's the matter Charlie Brown? Still no invite to the Met Gala?") Calls and emails to the PR girl, who was a good friend of the club doorman I later wrote a book about, went unreturned. The doorman reached out to her and he was similarly rebuffed. (Despite their friendship, I believe he never heard from her again). Weeks after the gala came and went, I called her again and left a courtesy message (again, unreturned) to see if she had received her copy of the magazine (surely she had) and wanted to know what she thought of the article. At this point I was really just trying to provoke her, and I knew that she had most likely been instructed by her superiors to slash me from the invite list. There's nothing more dreary than institution people who have no sense of humor about their subject matter.
Anyway, here is the article from the Summer 2001 issue of DUTCH:
How Now Jackie
A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Costume Institute shows how Jacqueline Kennedy’s pop princess persona is irreplaceable.
By Glenn Belverio
In 1963, about a week after the publication of Jacqueline Susann’s memoir about her pet poodle, Every Night, Josephine!, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. When Susann stopped by her publisher’s for a meeting, she found everyone gathered around the TV taking in the news. “Why the fuck does this have to happen to me?!” she exploded. “This is gonna ruin my tour!” But like any good writer, Susann was eventually inspired by this pitfall. Her last novel, Dolores, was “the intense, tragic story of Dolores Ryan, the beautiful and fashionable young widow of an assassinated American President”. The most thinly veiled roman-a-clef in history, Dolores examined the psyche--and shopping skills--of an American First Lady. An excerpt: “Their first real argument came when she bought ten pairs of shoes. Jimmy stared at the bill with total disbelief. ‘How can you wear ten pairs of shoes at once?’ ‘They match different clothes,’ replied Dolores. ‘Clothes I intend to buy.’”
The clothes bought by the real First Lady of Fashion, Jacqueline Kennedy, will be featured in an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute titled "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years." Susann biographer Barbara Seaman writes of the author’s interest in Mrs. Kennedy: “She identified totally with ‘the other Jackie’, with her brunette beauty and elegance, her tragedies with children…her aura of sadness mixed with strength.” Sadly, there will be no juxtapositions of the Valley of the Dolls author’s famous Pucci outfits alongside Mrs. Kennedy’s Givenchy gowns. Also, don’t look for any mention of an experience that the two Jackies shared: both were patients of Max Jacobs aka “Dr. Feelgood,” the notorious quack famous for his vitamin B and amphetamine shots. (Mrs. Kennedy’s visits to Dr. Feelgood's office are documented in Sarah Bradford’s recent bio America’s Queen.)
This would all make for an interesting comparative pop culture study in two American Jackies: Susann, the vulgar, brash broad of trashy letters, and Mrs. Kennedy, the polite, shy lady of historic and aesthetic preservation. Susann swore loudly like a sailor, indulged in Nembutal suppositories, and wrote books about pill-popping starlets and suicidal bisexuals. Mrs. Kennedy whispered demurely (“like Marilyn Monroe playing Ophelia,” Maria Callas famously quipped), smoked cigarettes while hidden from cameras (one would be hard pressed to find a photo of her smoking), and read esoteric French books. Some may argue that Jackie Susann was a precursor to the later, hedonistic Jackie O., wherein her First Lady decorum surrendered to the decadence of the late '60s--a period defined by Susann’s sensationalistic novels.
But being that the Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit is not meant to be viewed as a perverse pop playground (the tone is decidedly reverential), Susann’s sensible absence requires no explanation. However, the impressive show contains many consolations. “Jacqueline Kennedy was taking a look that was very much in common currency in certain fashionable circles but wasn’t by any means an aesthetic that had been embraced by America at large”, explains Hamish Bowles, Vogue editor-at-large and curator for the exhibit. “She took something that came from a very sequestered world and made it nationally and internationally visible.” On display will be many of the elegant gowns Mrs. Kennedy wore for formal functions and public appearances designed by American designer Oleg Cassini: the black satin dress she wore when she met the Pope, the famed Inaugural ball gown, the sleeveless pink shantung dress she wore to India (a trip she reportedly brought sixty suitcases for).
There will also be a few Givenchys -- such as a stunning hot pink ribbon-back dress -- most of which were allegedly bought before she moved into the White House. (With the exception of the ones purchased for her appearances with JFK in Paris). This was in lieu of her suggestion that she would only buy clothes that were made in America. “If she was wearing Paris couture clothes that she already had in her wardrobe, I don’t think she can be criticized for that”, says Bowles. “On the contrary, it showed some level of sobriety and thriftiness, and it also showed that she was drawn to very simple, understated clothes.”
Another way that Mrs. Kennedy satisfied her French fashion fixation was to have some of her clothes made by Chez Ninon, an American company that legitimately copied Paris couture. One such example is the cranberry wool trompe l’oeil dress (a copy of a Marc Bohan design for Dior) she famously wore in the televised tour of her White House restoration project. Even better than the actual dress is the inclusion of video clips of the program in the exhibit. The White House Tour video is a hypnotizing historical artifact. Mrs. Kennedy’s whispery, campy recital of historical factoids, her sometimes stiff, sometimes boyish movements, and her nervous schoolgirl smile suggested a failed attempt at projecting a fully developed pop royal persona. (She allegedly went to bed in tears after viewing the broadcast.)
It perhaps goes without saying that at least one garment will not be included in the show: the infamous blood-splattered Chanel-like pink suit that is stored away in some arcane Washington vault. “The stained suit Jackie refused to change that day documented the polarities of womanhood: the pastel pink of girlhood and romance and the barbaric blood red of birth and death,” wrote Camille Paglia in her essay "Mona Lisa in Motion."
“That garment, like the Shroud of Turin, was a pictogram of her life story, with its failed pregnancies and widowhood.” Some may wonder how an exhibit on the clothes of Jackie Kennedy can be complete without the psychological and historical information displayed on that suit. Many will understand the need for restraint and respect on such an issue. Jackie Susann’s Dolores certainly understood the need for restraint: “Part of the duties of being First Lady was to look perfect. She sure didn’t look perfect now…the wrinkled suit…her hair falling across her face…she mustn’t allow the tears to come. A lady doesn’t show emotion in public.”