Gloria Vanderbilt, heiress, socialite, fashion designer, and mother to Anderson Cooper, passed away today at the age of 95.
"She was a painter, a writer, and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they'd tell you, she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern," said Cooper in a segment on CNN this morning.
Born in New York City in 1924, Vanderbilt was the great-great granddaughter of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, who left $100 million USD to the family when he died in 1877 at age 82. Following her father's death when she was just a baby, Gloria was thrust into the center of a fierce and highly-publicized battle over her custody (one that earned her the nickname "poor little rich girl") between her mother and her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Gertrude, who herself was worth $78 million USD and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, became Gloria's guardian.
When she was 17, she married Pasquale di Cicco, a move that resulted in Gloria's aunt Gertrude erasing her niece from her will. But when she turned 21, Gloria came into a $4.3 million USD trust left to her by her father anyway. After her divorce from di Cicco, she went on to marry conductor Leopold Stokowski, with whom she had two sons, director Sidney Lumet, and author Wyatt Cooper, with whom she also had two sons. She also dated Howard Hughes, Marlon Brando, and Frank Sinatra.
Vanderbilt told The Associated Press in 2016 that the nickname "poor little rich girl" bothered her deeply — but that it motivated her to make something of her life beyond her inherited fortune and social strata. Vanderbilt is credited with popularizing designer jeans in the 1970s and '80s with her eponymous label and its white swan logo, which rose to fame with an iconic $1 million ad campaign in 1978. By 1980, the brand was generating $200 million USD in sales.
Vanderbilt went on to parlay her denim empire into shoes, accessories, and home goods with her company Gloria Concepts, as well as a perfume called "Glorious." In 2002, Jones Apparel Group Inc. acquired Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp. for $138 million USD.
Vanderbilt is also known for her prolific writing career, as the author of several bestsellers including It Seemed Important At The Time, a memoir about her decorated history of romances, an erotic novel called Obsession, and The Rainbow Comes and Goes, which she wrote with her son Anderson Cooper about love and the loss of their respective son and brother, Carter, to suicide. She also starred in the HBO documentary Nothing Left Unsaid with Cooper in 2016.
Her fortune is reported to have been worth $200 million USD. On the topic of inheriting his family's money, though, Anderson Cooper has been vocal about his opposition. He told Howard Stern he thinks family inheritance is a curse, and that there was no trust fund waiting for him.