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Known for her fashion design and tumultuous personal life, actress, writer and artist Gloria Vanderbilt became an iconic figure in American popular culture during the 20th century.
Gloria Vanderbilt, the "Jeans Queen," has endured seven decades of fame, starting when she was at the center of an ugly custody battle and dubbed America's "poor little rich girl."
A short biography of Gloria Vanderbilt, the American heiress whose illustrious family pedigree helped her become a branded icon when she launched her line of designer jeans.
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Born in New York City in 1924, Gloria Vanderbilt became famous early in life at the center of a battle between her mother and aunt for her custody and multi-million dollar trust fund in the 1930s. Her fame grew later in life as she ventured into film, art, writing and fashion.
A member of the affluent and influential Vanderbilt family, Gloria Vanderbilt was born into wealth on February 20, 1924, in New York City. Her father, Reginald Vanderbilt, was the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the creator of a railroad empire and one of America's first millionaires. Her mother, Gloria Morgan, was a young woman who loved parties more than parenthood. Gloria lost her father to liver disease when she was a toddler. She received a multimillion-dollar trust fund upon her father's death. For several years after her father's death, Gloria lived abroad with her mother and was often in the care of her maternal grandmother and her nurse Dodo.
When she was ten, Gloria Vanderbilt made headlines as the central figure in a bitter and very public custody battle. Her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney successfully fought her mother for Gloria. The court decided that Gloria could spend the summers with her mother, and that Dodo, Gloria's most beloved companion, would have to be let go.
In her teens, Vanderbilt emerged as a popular young socialite with her own distinct style. She even appeared in Harper's Bazaar magazine in 1939. A while later, Vanderbilt headed out to Hollywood where her mother was already well ensconced in popular social circles. Gloria started dating much older men, including Errol Flynn and Howard Hughes. In 1941, she married Hollywood agent Pat De Cicco—she was only seventeen at the time.
It proved to be an unhappy union, and Vanderbilt divorced her husband in 1945. Even before the divorce, she had found love again with Leopold Stokowski, a famous conductor. Vanderbilt and Stokowski married shortly after her divorce was complete. They had two sons together, Stanley and Christopher. Around this time, Vanderbilt also discovered her passion for art and studied at the Art Students League of New York. She explored an interest in acting as well, studying with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.
Vanderbilt appeared on Broadway in the short-lived revival of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life in 1955. She showed promise as a writer, too, publishing a collection of poems around this time. Vanderbilt also made some changes in her personal life around this time, divorcing Stokowski. After a short encounter with Frank Sinatra, she wed film director Sidney Lumet in 1956. Vanderbilt tackled some acting roles around this time, but she was better known for her social life. She was good friends with Truman Capote among others in the New York's intellectual and social elite. After divorcing Lumet, Vanderbilt married writer Wyatt Cooper in 1963. The couple had two sons together, Carter and Anderson.
In the 1970s, Vanderbilt burst onto the fashion scene.
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Each day, we put on clothes that do more than just cover up bodies. We choose clothes that represent our personalities, our moods, the times we live in, our ambitions and our desires. Who are the people behind the designs we wear every day? These fashion designers who have made fashion a huge industry, and whose work is as controversial, and as influential, as traditional art. These are some of the designers who have dressed the world's most famous people—and are hugely famous in their own right.
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