Gloria Vanderbilt — socialite, model, designer, interior design legend — has died at 95, her son Anderson Cooper confirmed on CNN. “Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman who loved life and lived it on her own terms,” Cooper said on air. “What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. What an incredible woman.”
As a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in America in the late 1800s — Gloria had been in the public eye since birth. A 1934 custody battle over who would raise her when her father died was “the O.J. case of its day, except bigger,” according to Cooper. She was ultimately raised by her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt-Whitney, and by the ’40s and ’50s she’d become famous in her own right as an actress and a model.
But it was in the 1970s, when she began designing clothing, that Vanderbilt truly became a fashion icon. Her jeans, emblazoned with a swan, were a hit, and she appeared in ads saying they would “really hug your derriere.” She was one of the first celebrity-turned-designers who lent her name to linens, fragrances, skirts, and jeans. A proto Rihanna, if you will.
A swan herself, Vanderbilt’s personal life was always interesting. Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffanys may have been based on her. She was romantically linked to Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, and Marlon Brando, and in 2016 revealed to her son in a documentary that she had a same-sex relationship while she was at school.
Above all, Vanderbilt put the “grand” in “Grand Dame.” She will be remembered for her heightened sense of everything — design, fashion, drama. As an artist, a designer, and a human, she was a true individual, the sort of woman who thought of releasing an erotic novel at the age of 85, or joining Instagram at the age of 93. Her last post was from seven days ago, where she revealed that she liked to paint on the tiles in her bathroom. “Why not, Star Child?” she wrote.