Why Jackie O is STILL the First Lady of fashion
Rarely have I encountered a woman so utterly elegant as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
She was America’s First Lady — and still plain Jackie Kennedy — when I was invited to an informal supper with Jackie and her husband at the White House.
I was working in New York as a fashion model, and was married to my first husband Robin Douglas-Home, whose Uncle Alec became Britain’s Prime Minister soon afterwards.
Britain’s Ambassador to the U.S., David Ormsby-Gore, was a family friend and the reason why, aged 22, I found myself sitting next to President John F. Kennedy eating a fried chicken dinner.
It was a Sunday night in October 1962 and — although I had no idea at the time — the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the major Cold War confrontations.
Yet the President acted as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
We were a small, intimate party, and as JFK sat down next to me I remember Jackie’s slight froideur; perhaps because her flirtatious husband had a way of making a girl feel she was the most important person in the world.
Tactile, warm and fascinating, he even commented on the fact I’d been on the cover of American Vogue for two months in a row.
For that casual supper I recall wearing a Mary Quant red felt dress with a pinafore top and trapeze skirt, and feeling very flattered that the most important man in the world should be focusing his magnetic gaze on me.
Jackie, meanwhile, left me feeling positively overawed — even though I’d been mingling with some of the world’s most fashionable women, at Vogue and the Eileen Ford modelling agency.
Dressed in a tan shift with a cardigan, Jackie looked, as always, impeccable. Whatever the occasion, she knew instinctively what to wear. Her taste was unerring; her judgment, infallible. In fact she exuded effortless style.
Even today, two decades after her death, Jackie Kennedy Onassis remains a timeless fashion icon. From catwalk to High Street, her influence is ubiquitous.
Now, with the release of Jackie, an Oscar-tipped film biography, with Natalie Portman in the title role, we can expect to see an explosion of lookalike outfits. Tailored workwear, jackets cut flatteringly above the waist, skirt-suits and neat little hats will doubtless become de rigueur.
Aside from that White House supper, I met Jackie once in New York as well. She was slender, exquisitely tailored and stylishly understated.
I recall the elan with which she wore those plain, boxy jackets over neat, sleeveless dresses. In summer she looked sublimely chic in pastel sleeveless shifts.
But perhaps her greatest triumph was her ability to accessorise: an uncomplicated strapless evening gown adorned with a charming diamond brooch; a classic shirt teamed with pearls; a casual jersey and statement sunglasses. Jackie’s look was hallmarked by its simplicity: her triumph was to know exactly how much embellishment an outfit needed. Nothing was ever overdone. But while she has often been emulated, how many women can really pull off her trademark look?
As this parade of recent celebrity doppelgangers shows, very few of them measure up to Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Fake tans clamour for attention with strident jewellery, fussy hairstyles, shimmering make-up and low-cut tops. There is just too much to distract the eye.
In contrast Jackie knew, intuitively, that less is more. She always wore the correct height of heel for the occasion, whatever it might have been. Neat summer shift frocks were teamed with pretty flat sandals, not the vertiginous heels favoured by today’s imitators. Decorum was always Jackie’s byword. There was never an unseemly flash of thigh or too much décolletage on display.
If you could bottle that understated elegance, it would sell for outrageous sums. But — as the motley succession of modern celebrities shown here proves — you can’t.
With their too-bright clashing fabrics and too-high hems, many of her copycats are trying too hard, in my view, and falling short of her high standard.
I can’t help feeling that they’ve missed the point. The secret to Jackie’s success was in her acuity and restraint, rather than any particular cut or shape, lovely as they were.
Her refinement and sophistication were innate. And there is no way, as today’s showy celebrities prove, to teach that.