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TOP 10: ‘First Women’ Peeks Inside the White House

First Women by Kate Andersen Brower/USA Today

‘First Women’ Peeks Inside the White House: Ray Locker–usatoday.com–4/15/16

Novelist Nicole Mary Kelby on Jacqueline Kennedy’s Iconic Pink Suit

Nicole Mary Kelby/author The Pink Suit/provided by publisher to TWE

Nicole Mary Kelby/Photo: Ann Marsden

By Patricia Caso/June 13, 2014

TWITTER: @nmkelby

The making of Jacqueline Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit is the backdrop for Nicole Mary Kelby’s latest novel, The Pink Suit (@littlebrown). Although the iconic item of clothing is usually associated with sadness, Ms. Kelby’s aim is the opposite. She wants the suit to represent all that is good, beautiful and possible for anyone.

“Having been a journalist for many years, it just became a very fascinating idea that there was all this controversy around this particular garment…it became a sacred trust to write this book.”      Nicole Mary Kelby

Nicole draws on the history of an era defined not only by hope and innocence but also reality and tragedy. Like so many growing up in the 60’s, I so admired Jackie Kennedy’s simply elegant look.

When I saw the book’s cover, I was immediately intrigued and memories of that time came rushing back. I knew I wanted to talk to Ms. Kelby and find out what motivated her to write about that historic suit… [Read more…]

TOP 10: Jacqueline Kennedy’s Smart Pink Suit Preserved in Memory

Jacqueline Kennedy's Smart Pink Suit--Photo: Art Rickerby/Time & Life Pictures

Jacqueline Kennedy’s Smart Pink Suit Preserved in Memory: Cathy Horyn–nytimes.com–11/16/13–Photo: Art Rickerby/Time & Life Pictures

SUE’S REVIEW — The Indomitable Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland book

UPDATE 2/21/13: Film debuts at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

UPDATE 9/8/12: The new film, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel,” opens this month.  Here is the trailer…

By Sue Podbielski/October 22, 2011

Facebook: DianaVreelandbookandfilm

Once upon a time there was a queen, who, despite her rather unconventional appearance, ruled the rarified world of women’s magazines with her ideas of fashion and beauty. She was Diana Vreeland, whose singular style catapulted her in the 1930s from socialite to Harper’s Bazaar’s fashion editor, a job she invented and held for almost three decades.

“There is only one thing in life and that’s the continual renewal of inspiration.” Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland from Abrams

Photo Courtesy of the Diana Vreeland Estate

She discovered Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall; launched the careers of models Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton; advised First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy on clothes; and became a major player during the heyday of women’s magazines. In 1963 Vreeland cemented her reputation by being named the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue where her contributions to the fashion revolution of the mid-sixties were innumerable.

I always found the indomitable Mrs. Vreeland, whom I worshipped from afar, to be a fascinating creature. Her personal panache, her jet black bob, her aquiline nose, and her gift for witticisms won me from the first moment that I read about her.

She once said, “The first thing to do is to arrange to be born in Paris. After that, everything follows quite naturally.” Diana Vreeland was one of the great figures of the New York City fashion and art world until her death in 1989.

Her larger than life persona (she was the inspiration for the character of Maggie Prescott in the Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn film “Funny Face”) may have been her own creation, but it was nevertheless mesmerizing.

When The Grolier Club (a place apparently so unique that had I never even heard about it in my 30 -something years of living in New York) announced a lecture by Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, I eagerly paid the thirty dollars for the ticket and joined the crowd of 25 or so D.V. acolytes to hear what she had to say.

Diana Vreeland Bazaar Cover 4/15/67

One of Vreeland’s Harper’s Bazaar covers/March, 1959

Immordino Vreeland, a striking woman with a professional background in fashion, has written a new book, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” which chronicles Mrs. Vreeland’s life in style. Many have said that Diana (pronounced DEE-ahna) Vreeland gave us the template for the way we view and interact with fashion today, and Immordino Vreeland makes a very strong case for that.

While she never met her grandmother-in-law, she had access to the family’s archives as well as those of Bazaar, Vogue, and the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, for which Diana Vreeland served as creative consultant after her abrupt dismissal from Vogue at the age of 70.

Immordino Vreeland was a prodigious researcher on this project leaving no stone of D.V.’s life as an editor unturned. While she was researching the book, an impressive coffee-table tome featuring hundreds of photos pulled from the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, she told herself that she should be working on a documentary. So that’s exactly what she ended up doing.

Her impressive film, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival and will be released by the Samuel Goldwyn Company in March 2012, features interviews with Calvin Klein, Angelica Huston, Ali McGraw, Marisa Berenson, Oscar de La Renta, Hubert de Givenchy, Diane von Furstenberg, Manolo Blahnik, and Vreeland’s most celebrated collaborator, photographer Richard Avedon.

“You’ve got to give people what they can’t get at home. You’ve got to take them somewhere.”

Then, there is Diana Vreeland in her own words, captured on video and audio tapes in interviews she did with Dick Cavett and Diane Sawyer, as well as many hours of conversations recorded with the writer George Plimpton, made while she wrote her memoir, D.V. Vreeland once said, “You’ve got to give people what they can’t get at home. You’ve got to take them somewhere.” Her vehicle for this journey was fashion, but her route was fantasy.

Diana Vreeland Vogue Cover with Twiggy

Twiggy on Vogue cover/April, 1967

Diana Vreeland gave people a sense of something larger than life, although not always factual. According to Immordino Vreeland, she was a believer in “faction,” the synergy between fantasy and fact. “Do we know for certain that Nijinsky danced through her living room?” says Immordino Vreeland. “We don’t. But does it matter? She puts us there. She gives us a sense of history in a totally different way.”

Vreeland had a front row seat to the most important moments of her time, and it made everything she said and did more alive. She danced alongside Josephine Baker in Harlem; she rode with Buffalo Bill; she shopped at Coco Chanel’s atelier; and she witnessed the coronation of King Edward VI.

It was all a magnificent prelude for the woman who would introduce, despite indignant protestations, the bikini and blue jeans to American fashion, calling them “the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen.” Everything she did was extraordinary and extreme. Not surprisingly, she loved the Sixties. “For the first time,” she said, “youth went after life instead of waiting for life to come to them.”

I asked Immordino Vreeland during the recent lecture what Diana Vreeland might have thought of today’s fashion. She answered that she probably would be very pleased with much of what she saw, particularly how accessible fashion has become today. She thought Vreeland would have really loved the internet because she loved learning about new things and tapping into trends and information all over the world. Vreeland once said, “There is only one thing in life and that’s the continual renewal of inspiration.”

She brought creativity, inspiration, and fantasy to an industry which needed her talent.

For those who are interested in Diana Vreeland’s personal life and how she came to be the fascinating woman she ultimately became, Immordino Vreeland offers glimpses but no conclusions.

Diana Vreeland autobiography

Diana Vreeland autobiography

According to interviews with Vreeland herself, she always had a unique appearance which prompted her mother to call her, “my little monster.” Her younger sister, Alexandra, was considered to be beautiful.

What this did to a vulnerable young Diana Vreeland we can only conjecture. One has the vision of a girl growing up in a world of beauty and culture who, although not considered beautiful herself, was determined to turn herself into the ultimate arbiter of fashion and taste.

The wonderful thing is that while she may have created her own persona and played the role to the hilt, she gave so much to life. Whether she was being real or acting a part didn’t seem to matter. Yes, she was bending reality to fit her will, but she was awfully good at it.

Immordino Vreeland paints a vivid portrait of a complex woman whose talents could not be categorized and whose imagination was so vast that she had to invent a place for herself in the world. More than anything Diana Vreeland was about ideas. She brought creativity, inspiration, and fantasy to an industry which needed her talent. And that industry became her all-important vehicle. It was a match made in heaven.

Book Credit: Abrams, Fall 2011. That is Diana Vreeland on the cover, posing in front of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. The model was sick that day and D.V. just decided to do the shoot herself.

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Sue Podbielski is a writer, producer, and community activist.

Caroline Kennedy on Why Poetry Matters

Caroline Kennedy

UPDATE October 1, 2012: This week Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy is being published with the introduction by Caroline Kennedy.

By Laurie McAndish King, Contributing Writer

April 17, 2011

Caroline Kennedy feels like a childhood friend. I grew up seeing her image on TV and in Life Magazine articles. She was a White House princess, and, like many of my classmates, I wanted to be her. So I jumped at the chance to hear Caroline in person at a Dominican University/ Book Passage event last week. She would be talking about poetry and her latest book She Walks in Beauty.

Poetry? Kennedy had written best-selling books on constitutional law, politics, and American history before she began anthologizing poetry. I was curious: Why the change in direction?

Caroline Kennedy book cover

Speaking to a crowd of more than 850 at Dominican’s Institute of Leadership Studies, Caroline explained the transition: After her mother died, people wrote about Jacqueline’s sense of style and her place as an American fashion icon. Caroline felt the press was missing something much more important about her mother: Jacqueline’s love of literature and language. So she compiled The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and thus began her public foray into the world of poetry.

But it was not a new direction. As children, Caroline and John-John were required to give their parents poems—rather than more traditional gifts—for holidays, birthdays, and Mother’s Day. They chose a verse, wrote it down, illustrated it, and sometimes memorized it. Jacqueline compiled the poems into a family scrapbook, which has become a multigenerational keepsake—a reminder of the ideas that have been important to family members across the years.

“I am fortunate to have grown up in a world of language and ideas. Ideas are what we need to change the world,” Kennedy says. “Poems distill our deepest emotions into a very few words—words that we can remember, carry with us, and share with others as we talk and weave the cloth of life.”

Caroline Kennedy bookIt’s clear that poetry, language and ideas have shaped the Kennedys’ lives. Caroline told Jacqueline’s story of memorizing Tennyson (“… Come, my friends, ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”) with her grandfather when she was twelve.

And Caroline herself was proud to memorize Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Second Fig (“Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!”) and recite it to her father when she was just three years old.

JFK extolled the virtues of poetry when he spoke at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library: “When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

When Caroline turned 50 a few years ago, friends gave her … poems. Three of them were such powerful touchstones that Caroline was inspired to develop her new anthology of nearly two hundred verses celebrating the joys and challenges of being a woman.

In it, poets answer questions like “What Do Women Want?” They tell their own truths about work and making love, motherhood and death, beauty and silence. They grieve and survive, remember and reconcile, protest and suggest, complain and celebrate.

Two of Caroline’s favorites, W. H. Auden’s “Leap Before You Look,” and Marge Piercy’s “To Be of Use,” seem especially appropriate as expressions of values for a family known for its unwavering commitment to community service.

Remembering a gorgeous line from Wallace Stevens (“The imperfect is our paradise”) has given Kennedy strength in difficult times. And she has, in turn, used poetry to help others find their strength.

Caroline Kennedy

DreamYard Art Center/O Magazine 4/2011: Photo/Ron Howard

At the DreamYard Art Center in South Bronx, Kennedy provides support as teens write and perform poetry, finding their voices and their places in the world along the way. Several DreamYard girls have recommended pieces for an anthology of poetry for children that Kennedy is editing. You can see a photo tour of this center in O Magazine this month.

Why does poetry matter? Caroline Kennedy reminds us: “We pass down social values and personal truths through poetry. It brings us together. It is the essence of our common humanity.”

“Poems are well suited to the pace of modern life. They are short, intense, and remind us of what’s important…. Working on this book reminded me that the personal is universal … and sharing experiences and emotions is the best way we can help ourselves and others.”

April is National Poetry Month. What better way to celebrate than participating in the Kennedy tradition? Give a poem to a friend!

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About the author:

Laurie McAndish King is an award-winning travel writer and photographer with a knack for finding adventure all around the world. Her work has aired on public radio and appeared in Smithsonian magazine, The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2009, and other magazines and literary anthologies. Laurie is also a poet and authored a book of humorous verse.