Fashion icon and artist Gloria Vanderbilt dies at 95

CNN/ Newswire | 6/17/2019, 2:35 p.m.
Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper. The fashion designer, artist and socialite was 95.
Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper. The fashion designer and socialite was 95.

The two married in 1956. Following their divorce in August 1963, Vanderbilt married for a final time on Christmas Eve of that year. With writer Wyatt Cooper, she had two more sons: Carter Cooper in 1965 and Anderson Cooper in 1967.

Vanderbilt found another avenue for her creativity in the years that followed. Tapping her artwork as a muse, she produced fashion and textile designs that would earn her the 1969 Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, before opening the door to a line of ready-to-wear garments in the mid-1970s.

Under her GV Ltd. brand, she'd go on to sell millions of pairs of jeans bearing her signature and trademark swan logo -- a nod to her first production as a thespian.

"If you were around in early 1980s it was pretty hard to miss the jeans she helped create, but that was her public face -- the one she learned to hide behind as a child," Anderson Cooper said. "Her private self, her real self -- that was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public."

Losing a son, finding solace in words

Tragedy struck the family in 1978 when Wyatt Cooper died on the operating table during open-heart surgery. The family took another blow a decade later when Carter Cooper, 23, jumped from the 14th-floor terrace of his parents' penthouse in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. Carter had suffered with depression.

The following years were rough ones for Vanderbilt. On top of coping with the loss of a son, her lawyer and psychiatrist bilked her out of millions. She successfully sued them, but still had to sell her mansion in the Hamptons and five-story Manhattan penthouse to pay off her debts.

In 1995, she began working on a book, "A Mother's Story," which published in 1996. The book documented her grief after Carter's death. Despite her struggles, she always welcomed stories about her boy, she told People in a 2016 interview.

People "will start to talk about him and then say, 'Oh, I'm sorry,' and I say, 'No, I love to talk about him. More, more, more' -- because that brings him alive and it brings him closer and it means that he hasn't been forgotten," she told the magazine, Anderson Cooper by her side.

In his mother's obituary, Cooper lovingly described his mom as "the strongest person I've ever met, but she wasn't tough. She never developed a thick skin to protect herself from hurt. She wanted to feel it all. She wanted to feel life's pleasures, its pains as well.

"She trusted too freely, too completely and suffered tremendous losses, but she always pressed on, always worked hard, always believed the best was yet to come."

Chronicling her life

Jones Apparel Group bought Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp. in 2002 for $138 million, and Vanderbilt delved wholesale back into her love for art and writing.

She put 25 oil paintings on exhibit in Manchester, Vermont, in 2007, and in 2012, staged "The World of Gloria Vanderbilt: Collages, Dream Boxes and Recent Paintings" at the New York Design Center.