“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms,” Anderson said in a statement. “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.”
Before building a fashion empire, Gloria was among the most closely followed people of the 20th century, having been born into one of the country’s wealthiest and most well-known families. As The New York Times put it, “She was America’s most famous non-Hollywood child in the Roaring Twenties and Depression years, the great-great granddaughter of the 19th-century railroad-steamship magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
As an infant, the Times reports that she inherited a $2.5 million trust fund — equivalent to $37 million today — which she wasn’t allowed to access until she turned 21.
But Gloria was much more than the typical socialite. In 1969, she received the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for her fashion and textile designs. Not long after, she turned the industry upside down with a collection of ready-to-wear pieces, most notably with jeans specifically made for women (most mass-produced jeans at the time were designed for men). Her eponymous clothing line soon became a $100 million-a-year business.
“I’m not knocking inherited money,” she told the Times in 1985. “But the money I’ve made has a reality to me that inherited money doesn’t have. As the Billie Holiday song goes, ‘Mama may have and Papa may have, but God bless the child that’s got his own.’”