Gloria Vanderbilt, who died earlier this week at the age of 95, was the quintessential renaissance woman: an artist, actress, author, designer, mother (to four sons, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper) model, philanthropist, fashion mogul. Refusing to be defined by her family’s wealth and her notoriously fragmented childhood — the press dubbed her “poor little rich girl” during a very public custody battle in 1934 — she spent decades constantly shapeshifting and exploring new outlets for creativity and self-expression. Her socialite lifestyle was so lavish that it reportedly influenced her friend, author Truman Capote, to create the character of Holly Golightly in his novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s (famously played by Audrey Hepburn in the film adaptation).
Always admired for her finely tuned sartorial eye, she received the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for her fashion and textile designs in 1969. Soon after, she turned the industry upside down with a collection of ready-to-wear pieces. Her jeans were especially groundbreaking: They were created for women at a time when most mass-produced denim was designed for men. Her eponymous clothing and merchandise line soon became a multimillion-dollar business, generating more than $200 million USD in sales at its peak in 1980, according to TIME. She eventually sold the licenses for the Gloria Vanderbilt name and brand. Most recently, those rights were acquired by a private apparel holding company in 2002 for $138 million USD, reports TIME. Her signature jeans can still be purchased at retailers like Costco, Kohl’s, and Amazon.
“The thing that really made Gloria Vanderbilt penetrate the American consciousness was the blue jeans war of the late ’70s and early 1980s,” Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, told the Los Angeles Times. “The jeans moved from being functional clothes to designer jeans...it was her attempt to take something that was so unglamorous and invest it in high fashion style.”
Ahead, we revisit Gloria’s impeccable sense of style and the looks that made her the fashion legend we’ll remember forever.