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Designer Vanderbilt Was A Legend

Posted on June 20 2019

Special to The Palm Beach daily News By: Carleton Varney 

I was so saddened to hear of the passing Monday at age 95 of Gloria Vanderbilt, a gentle woman comfortable in every possible style, from lovely evening gowns to the jeans she designed for Murjani. We met in the 1970s when her fourth husband, the late Wyatt Cooper, and I were writing for Diplomat, a Washington magazine. I once visited Gloria’s townhouse, where she was at work “collaging” using multi-color detailed fabrics.

She was such a design talent, and that talent was showcased at the Vincent Lippe china and antiques showroom on lower Fifth Avenue. Her Calla Lily china collection, in pinks and greens, is still one of my favorites. I have the complete set of it in Palm Beach and use it often. When I do, I can’t help but think of her kindness over the years.

We met at the White House during the Carter administration, dining and dancing, when I told her how much I admired her work. I had just completed a children’s fabric collection for Schumacher, and she complimented me on how much she liked my pink elephants and happy dog designs. Such was the glue that made us friends: We both loved color and life and all things of glamour — the natural and the bright. Gloria was so generous with her love, and the world appreciated that, I think.

Her art was and is so personal and beautifully presented. I have used her works in homes from coast to coast for clients who love color and now, especially, will cherish them.

She always greeted me with a bright smile when I visited her in New York City on Beekman Place, a working studio filled with originals that are now part of museum collections across America. She was a true artist of our time, a glamorous artist who rightfully deserved praise and a place in the art world.

She added so many new chapters to the Vanderbilt family history, including her work as a model and an actress, one with a Broadway hit or two.

If I could, I would once again tell her: “Thank you, dear Gloria,” for always appreciating my work as I did hers. Her endorsement of my book, “Decorating in the Grand Manor,” is so beautifully written and inscribed on the book jacket along with her signature.

She, indeed, has left beauty behind. And I’m sure that in heaven, all the angels — and, I imagine, beautiful white swans — are extending to her a lovely and warm welcome, just as she did so often for so many.

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