Jackie O. and The Glamour of Privacy

With the new film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman in the title role, about to open in London there seems to be Jackie fever sweeping the media and culture in anticipation. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis is admired all over the world for her style which expressed a very American elegance that seemed effortlessly simple, feminine, and glamourous. Her style, however, is almost always represented by the “Camelot” years in the White House and the few years before and after. As much as her style then was impeccable and lovely there was also another Jackie, whose way of dressing was softer, more romantic, creative, and practical, emitting a different kind of glamour – Jackie O. Her new moniker refers to her marriage to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis from 1968 until his death in 1975 and marks a time when she took a deliberate turn away from the public eye and in so doing glamorized the tension between privacy and fame. It is widely considered that she married not for money but for things much more precious – privacy and, by extension, safety. After the assassination of her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy, Jackie’s fears for her children’s security grew and she determined to leave the country. That same year she married Onassis and embarked on a life in Europe, living in Greece, Capri, Paris and on Onassis’ yacht.

Jackie in Capri, 1970s ©Getty Images

As First Lady in the early 1960s, Jackie had the styles of the time on her side. Given the more challenging fashion silhouettes of the 70s such as wide lapels, flared pant legs, busy prints, and clinging, shiny jersey, it is a decade that isn’t usually cited for classic, enduring looks. Yet, within this moment of fashion, Jackie O. forged a new look for herself through her taste and lifestyle that managed to be both timely and, once again, iconic. Big sunglasses, which she began wearing as early as 1966, were her staple, becoming so much a part of her image that they seem to be part of her face, and indeed she is perhaps even more recognizable with them on than off. It is rare to find a picture of her outdoors during this time with her eyes visible. In an effort to avoid being noticed, she paired her oversize sunglasses with large scarves, often from Hermes, worn kerchief style over her head. Add to this a trench coat with the collar turned up and her incognito uniform is completed.

Jackie O’s signature look of privacy.  Arriving at JFK Airport, NYC April 3, 1976 ©Getty Images

These aspects of her dress are the most obvious ways in which she cultivated an aesthetics of privacy through her clothes, demeanor, and lifestyle. While both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar cited her regularly in articles and editorials on style, inevitably the images they used were photographs of Jackie at public social events or on the streets. It is clear that Jackie O. was not willing to sit for editorial fashion spreads or cooperate with any publicity endeavors. She was photographed more than once going barefoot through the streets of Capri, sandals in hand, in order to outrun the paparazzi. A famous shot of her walking hurriedly down a New York city street as a photographer behind her snaps her picture captured the essence of Jackie O. – remote, dignified, casual, private.

Jackie sighted on Madison Avenue, October 7, 1971 ©Getty Images

She had two looks, one a sporty look of white jeans and a black top, either a crew neck t-shirt, button-down shirt, or black turtleneck sweater, often ribbed. The repetitive look was another uniform that created a public façade for protection.

Jackie outside Claridge’s in London, September 1970. Jackie O’s signature look of privacy ©Getty Images

West Palm Beach, 1973 ©Getty Images

Her look the rest of the time veered towards gypsy skirts, flip-flops or sandals, belts, peasant-style dresses, and increasingly, prints. She always carried a Gucci hobo bag later named for her. Instead of Givenchy and Dior dresses, Chanel suits, and Oleg Cassini gowns she was wearing lots of Valentino. Instead of dressing prim and proper for public consumption by representing the nation, Jackie was dressing for herself and she did so with a jet-set resort sensibility with a dash of au courant bohemianism. This new style was not only softer, more sensual, and more fluid, it screamed out exclusivity and rarefied living. It was neither the wardrobe of a First Lady nor one of a working woman of the day. These were off-duty, romantic, resort clothes that spoke of a leisured lifestyle based in a cosseted existence.

Jackie in Capri August 24, 1970 in a gypsy skirt and sunglasses ©Getty Images

Ironically, just as the oversize sunglasses obscuring her face ultimately came to identify her, Jackie’s extreme avoidance of photographers and publicity of any kind during these years had the effect of making her even more alluring to the public. Photographs of her became the paparazzi’s holy grail. Remoteness makes the desired object all the more alluring and the image of Jackie O. in the 1970s epitomized this paradoxical aspect of glamour.

After the death of Onassis, Jackie took up a career as a book editor and turned to a typical Upper East side of New York look of lady-like suits and slacks with trim sweaters. She returned to a social life in the city though she remained low-key about publicity. Her days of being a recluse were over but their impact on the image of glamour endures.

Wearing a printed dress to attend the Metropolitan Opera House Royal Ballet in NYC, May 7, 1974 ©Getty Images

MA Study Trip to New York City: Voices from the past, visions for the future: a visit to Condé Nast’s New York archive.

One has only to scan the bibliographies of most major academic fashion articles to see that Vogue maintains a position of the highest authority in sartorial research, particularly concerning the interwar years. This is not to say that other contemporary fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar lack academic importance: more so that the material bound to each issue was not deemed worthy of preservation back then, in fact much of Bazaar’s archive – including prints by Richard Avedon, Man Ray and Louise Dahl-Wolfe – was destroyed in the 1980s. This was not the case with Condé Nast’s archive, which dates back to the 1920s, instigated by Mr Nast’s awareness of the monetary value of this vast collection of images. In our recent visit to the New York archive, Shawn Waldron, Senior Director of Archives and Records, showed us just how vast this collection really is. State of the art, temperature-controlled rooms house the thousands of high-quality original prints in colourful, expertly alphabetized folders. The effect is mesmerising, like a sweetshop lined with Steichens and Horsts, instead of Flying Saucers and Humbugs.

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Another room boasts a staggering quantity of loose and bound copies of publications, such as Architectural Digest, Glamour and Vanity Fair and, of course, Vogue. A researcher from a well-known fashion label pores over bound copies of the latter, highlighting the scholastic potential of the archive. Loose copies of many publications are also available for perusal, offering a more haptic experience for the viewer. The archive today is a dynamic editorial asset, both from an information and commercial point of view, and a far cry from ‘The Morgue’ that it once was. Mr Nast’s business model was ahead of its time, incorporating what is known today as ‘Blue Economy’: the process of turning waste into revenue. ‘The Morgue’ transformed into the active editorial asset that it is today, generating revenue through digital licensing and distribution of images.

As an informative resource, apart from the proliferation of beautiful fashion images, the intricate daily contracts visible on each spread, detailing the names, locations and costs of each shoot, are invaluable to the historian. What emerges is the closely linked relationship between business and preservation, and business’ potential in shaping the fashion canon. Were it not for Mr. Nast’s willingness to invest in the protection of his publication’s material, alongside his fastidious account-keeping, this barometer of social and cultural change would not exist.

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The archive promotes cultural research from many other trajectories; with publications, including Charm exposing what editors told young homemakers was necessary to set up home in the interwar period. Similar interdisciplinary research pathways exist within House & Garden, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler. These publications bring the past alive, and are a testament to the complexity of day-to-day concerns.

These research opportunities would not be possible without the painstakingly selective process of acquisition, organisation, and digitisation, undertaken by Waldron’s team. The resulting collection, with millions of objects, is unique in fashion publishing. Despite the challenges faced by a small team of archivists and photo editors, working with an ever-growing collection, the archive has become a valued editorial asset that can generate income, promote fashion research, and influence new interdisciplinary study.

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