Fashion Biography

Gloria Vanderbilt, Fashion Designer

Gloria Laura Morgan Vanderbilt (born February 20, 1924) is an American artist, actress, heiress, and socialite most noted as an early developer of designer blue jeans. She is a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family of New York and mother of CNN"s Anderson Cooper.

Vanderbilt was born in New York City, New York, the only child of railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880 1925) and his second wife, Gloria Morgan (1904 1965). She was christened in the Episcopal church as Gloria Laura Vanderbilt (and after her father"s death, christened in the Catholic Church, to which her mother belonged). From her father"s first marriage to Cathleen Neilson, she had a half sister, Cathleen Vanderbilt (1904 1944).

She became heiress to a half share in a five million dollar trust fund upon her father"s death from cirrhosis when she was 15 months old. The rights to control this trust fund while Vanderbilt was a minor belonged to her mother, who traveled to and from Paris for years, taking her daughter with her. They were accompanied by a beloved nanny young Gloria named Dodo, who would play a tumultuous part in the child"s life, and her mother"s identical twin sister Thelma, who was the mistress of The Prince of Wales during this time. As a result of frequent spending, her mother"s use of finances was scrutinized by the child Vanderbilt"s paternal aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Whitney, a sculptor and philanthropist, wanted custody of the young heiress and soon a famous custody trial became the lead story of 1934. The trial was so scandalous that at times, the judge would make everyone leave the room so as to listen to what young Vanderbilt had to say without anyone influencing her. Some people heard weeping and wailing inside the court room. Testimony was heard depicting the mother as an unfit parent; Vanderbilt"s mother lost the battle and Vanderbilt became the ward of her Aunt Gertrude.

Gloria Vanderbilt at age eight with her mother.

Litigation continued, however. Vanderbilt"s mother was forced to live on a drastically reduced portion of her daughter"s trust. Visitation was also closely watched to ensure that Vanderbilt"s mother did not exert any undue influence upon her daughter with her supposedly raucous lifestyle. Vanderbilt was raised amidst luxury at her Aunt Gertrude"s mansion in Old Westbury, Long Island, surrounded by cousins her age who lived in houses circling the vast estate, and in New York City.

The story of the trial was told in a 1982 miniseries for NBC Little Gloria Happy at Last, which was nominated for six Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Vanderbilt attended the Greenvale School in Long Island, Miss Porter"s School in Farmington, Connecticut and then the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as the Art Students League in New York City, developing the artistic talent for which she would become increasingly known in her career. When Vanderbilt came of age and took control of her trust fund, she cut her mother off entirely, though she supported her in later years.Her mother lived for many years with her sister in Beverly Hills and died there in 1965.

Personal life

At 17 years old, Vanderbilt went to Hollywood where she married agent Pasquale (Pat) DiCicco in 1941; they divorced in 1945.

Her second marriage, to conductor Leopold Stokowski in April 1945, produced two sons, Leopold Stanislaus Stan Stokowski, born August 22, 1950 and Christopher Stokowski, born January 31, 1952; they divorced in October 1955.

On August 28, 1956, she married director Sidney Lumet; they divorced in August 1963.

She married her fourth husband, author Wyatt Emory Cooper on December 24, 1963. They had two sons, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, born January 27, 1965 and CNN reporter Anderson Cooper, born June 3, 1967. Wyatt Cooper died in 1978 during open heart surgery in New York City. Carter Cooper committed suicide on July 22, 1988, by jumping from the family"s 14th floor apartment as his mother tried in vain to stop him. Vanderbilt believed that it was caused by a psychotic episode induced by an allergy to the anti asthma medical prescription drug Proventil.

She has three grandchildren by her eldest son, Stan: Aurora, born in March 1983 and Abra, born in 1985, both to author Ivy Strick, and Myles, born in 1998 to artist Emily Goldstein.

She maintained a romantic relationship with photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks for many years until his death in 2006.

Professional career

Vanderbilt studied art at the Art Students League of New York. She became known for her artwork, giving one woman shows of oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels. This artwork was adapted and licensed, starting about 1968, by Hallmark Cards (a manufacturer of paper products) and by Bloomcraft (a textile manufacturer), and Vanderbilt began designing specifically for linens, china, glassware and flatware.

During the 1970s, she ventured into the fashion business, first with Glentex, licensing her name for a line of scarves. In 1976, Indian designer Mohan Murjani"s Murjani Corporation, proposed launching a line of designer jeans carrying Vanderbilt"s name embossed in script on the back pocket, as well as her swan logo. Her jeans were more tightly fitted than the other jeans of that time. The logo eventually appeared on dresses and perfumes as well. Along with her jeans, Vanderbilt also launched a line of blouses, sheets, shoes, leather goods, liqueurs, and accessories. In the 1980s, designer jeans with names like Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein and Armani among so many fashion designers, became the designer label jeans to be seen wearing. Her jeans were the best selling jeans of that time period. Jones Apparel Group acquired the rights to Gloria Vanderbilt jeans in 2002.

Vanderbilt was one of the first designers to make public appearances, which was a difficult thing for her because of her shyness. After Murjani, she began her own company, GV Ltd., on 7th Avenue in New York.

In the 1980s, Vanderbilt accused her former partners in GV Ltd. and lawyer of fraud. After a lengthy trial (during which time the lawyer died) Vanderbilt won and was awarded nearly $1.7 million, but the money was never recovered, though she was also awarded $300,000 by the New York Bar Association from its Victims of Fraud fund. Vanderbilt owed millions in back taxes the lawyer had never paid the IRS and she was forced to sell her Southampton and New York City homes.

Murjani and Vanderbilt had also sold the rights to her name in the Home Furnishing and Fashion Accessories fields. Today, Vanderbilt is not involved in the fashion or home furnishings business and is in no way affiliated with the clothing and accessories company that uses her name.

In 2001, Gloria had her first exhibition in Vermont. Her exhibition of Dream Boxes at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester, Vermont was a critical success. Then on June 16, 2007, she returned to the Southern Vermont Arts Center with an exhibition of 35 paintings where 21 paintings were sold during the opening reception. In September 26, 2009 Gloria returned to the Arts Center to be one of four panelist at its Annual Fall Show Exhibition plus to sign her latest novel,Obsession: An Erotic Tale. Because of the demand for her artwork, she has created her own on line website, []. This site features her paintings, lithographs and dream boxes.

In the period from 1982 to 2002 L"Oreal has launched eight fragrances under the brand name Gloria Vanderbilt

On June 23, 2009, the 85 year old Vanderbilt"s novel entitled Obsession: An Erotic Tale, was published by Ecco. The book has garnered media attention for its racy content, including, scenes involving dildos, whips, silken cords and golden nipple clamps spanking Mint, cayenne pepper and a fresh garden carrot.. deployed in ways never envisioned by The Joy of Cooking. And there is also a unicorn, though, blessedly, it remains a bystander.

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