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What Jacqueline Kennedy Wore During Her White House Years and Why

Aired July 5, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, insights into an icon of style: What Jacqueline Kennedy wore during her White House years and why.

Joining us: Oleg Cassini, Jackie's official designer when she was first lady. One of the world's best known observers of style, Elsa Klensch. In Los Angeles, actress and vice chairperson of RKO Pictures Dina Merrill. She first met Jackie, when John Kennedy was a U.S. Senator. And back in New York, the author of "Jackie's Style," Pamela Clarke Keogh.

Plus, a special tour from the guest curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts exhibit, on Jackie's White House years, Hamish Bowls, European editor at large for "American Vogue." All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. We've got a special show for you, tonight, one of the hottest shows in New York going on right now -- hopefully is going to tour the country -- is taking place. It is called Jacqueline Kennedy, the White House years, selections from the John F. Kennedy Library And Museum.

It's on special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit features about 80 original outfits plus photos, documents, relating to Mrs. Kennedy's travels, and her work on White House restoration and the arts.

Throughout the program we will be hearing from Hamish Bowles, Mr. Bowles, rather, Hamish Bowles is the guest curator for this museum this exhibit and he will be describing certain dresses, others we will just show to you. And we'll have the comments of our panel.

Oleg, you designed for her. Why was she important in fashion history? OLEG CASSINI, FASHION DESIGNER: Well, first of all, she suddenly incorporated every wish of every American woman or every woman in the world. She arrived on the scenes unexpectedly, and became so popular immediately after her first trip to Canada, which was a political as well as fashion event.

And then at that moment in history, President Kennedy realized that he had not only a lovely wife but a fantastic ambassador. The clothes were designed, for the role. The purpose was not to impress the fashion world. It was simply to make her look lovely. KING: To be a first lady.

CASSINI: A first lady.

ELSA KLENSCH, FASHION JOURNALIST: She got a look. She wanted a look and she got a look. She was like Maria Callas. I need a look to establish myself. And that's exactly what Jackie Kennedy did.

KING: And we'll be seeing a lot of that look. How would you describe it, Pamela? What is a Jackie Kennedy look? She used Oleg a lot.

PAMELA CLARKE KEOGH, AUTHOR, "JACKIE'S STYLE": Yes, she certainly did. I think what Jackie did was she took French style, haute couture, took it off the runway and brought it -- reinterpreted it -- for an American woman. So it was French, it was beautiful but what like Mr. Cassini did, it was more sporty, it was elegant, and it was -- we saw her look was -- American women saw her look and just wanted it. They wanted that look.

KING: You are saying, Oleg, she was conscious all the time of what she was doing.

CASSINI: Absolutely. She worked with me in a very special way. I did not have a job as a designer. I was a friend of the president, of her, and I did not follow her whims at all. I designed clothes that I felt would be right for the purpose, where she was going, what she had to represent.

KING: She would say, I'm going here, I need this.

CASSINI: She proposed, and I disposed, no. She disposed, and I proposed.

KING: She didn't have to accept, though.

CASSINI: That is right.

KLENSCH: You must say that the silhouette was always the same, and it was the silhouette that she chose. She hated fitted clothes, so everything skimmed the body. Every outfit followed the same silhouette, the same shape.

KING: So this is an important collection, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we will never see this in our lifetimes again.

KING: We have arranged and we are going to be showing this throughout, with the curator to take us through. So, let's begin.


HAMISH BOWLES, EUROPEAN EDITOR AT LARGE, "AMERICAN VOGUE": Hello, I'm him Hamish Bowles. I'm the European editor at large for "American Vogue." I'm also the guest curator and creative consultant for Jacqueline Kennedy, The White House Years.


(voice-over): With her clothing for the inauguration festivities, Jacqueline Kennedy really established herself in the national consciousness as a style icon in a way. She worked with Oleg Cassini on the gown for the pre-inaugural gala the night before the swearing in ceremony. It was an evening orchestrated and organized by Frank Sinatra.

And for that Jacqueline Kennedy tonight night before swearing-in ceremony evening orchestrated organized by Frank Sinatra. And, for that, Jacqueline Kennedy wore ivory satin dress that you see which is absolute simplicity with a single telling detail which is the coquette at the waist, a sort of romantic historisist touch that counterbalances the bridal modernity of the dress itself.



KING: Elsa, why did that work?

KLENSCH: Well, it wasn't satin to start with, it was double- faced twill which is a very heavy fabric which cuts and falls beautifully. And the little coquette was charming because that was the award given to soldiers in the Civil War for loyalty. So it was a most charming, charming thing to do, to put it there at her waist.

KING: Was that, Pamela, in 1960, or would that work today?

KEOGH: I'm looking at that now. That's so extraordinarily modern.

KING: That could work right now?

KEOGH: It just kills me, yes. The clothing -- your jaw drops. It's would work right now, absolutely. It's beautiful.

KING: Oleg?

CASSINI: Well, if you look at a silhouette it is really remarkable. I didn't realize that I was the first minimalist, because.

KING: Minimalist? You were a minimalist.

CASSINI: Yes, because as you so rightly said, she wanted to have a silhouette that would make her look younger, if possible -- she was very young -- slimmer, if possible, and simplicity was one of the things that was most suited for her. And this looks like an old T- shirt, but a fantastic T-shirt.


KING: Let's see our next one designed by one of our guests -- Mr. Cassini. Watch.


BOWLES: The following day at the swearing in ceremony, Jacqueline Kennedy wore Oleg Cassini's A-line beige coat with overscaled buttons at the neck, and stand away collar, neckline filled in with a Sable collar.

Diane Greland suggested that she wear the Sable muff. And wearing this very, very simple, beige coat, Jacqueline Kennedy effectively stands out very dramatically from the crowd of women who are sort of shrouded in dark jewel colored suits. So, again, I think one sees that she and Cassini very carefully are thinking about what is going to be photogenic, what is going to read in a crowd.


KING: Mr. Cassini is here so we'll have the two ladies comment. Then we'll get your thoughts. Pamela, that certainly worked. In fact that is one of the most famous things she wore.

KEOGH: It is. And I look at it and she almost looks like a school girl, that beautiful coat, but then with the muff and the fur. So it's a combination of elegance and yet that clean line. And I think the important thing is when we look at the clothing, I think what she was doing is she was expressing the beliefs of the administration through her clothing. And that is enormously historical.

KLENSCH: And the muff you know was another historical part. Diane Greland suggested it because muffs have been worn through history. Also it was a very cold day and it would keep her hands warm.

KING: Don't see them a lot, though.

KLENSCH: No, but it was that little touch that made the clothes different.

CASSINI: The strategy was very simple. I knew that all the other ladies were going to come in with fur coats and look like big bears. It was very, very cold.

KING: Big bears?

CASSINI: Big bears. I wanted her to look like a little girl in the middle of opulence. And that was the first thing that hit the world, because if I hadn't done a good job there, I could have walked.

KING: We'll be right back with Oleg Cassini, Elsa Klensch, and Pamela Clarke Keogh, and Hamish Bowles, our curator at the museum. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For those who knew my mother, she will always be part of our lives, and she will always grace the history she helped to make. I hope that you have all come away from this exhibition with a sense for her love of history and the arts, the importance of international understanding, and her patriotism.

With her own sense of style she interpreted these values and represented President Kennedy and America in a way that captured the imagination of the world and still does.




JACQUELINE KENNEDY, FORMER FIRST LADY: I counted, I've been in 46 states with him.

Well, I tell you why you do love it. Granted, the exhaustion is there, but you're with your husband in the major endeavor you share. And when you look back on it, you've seen so much of your country -- all the people you've met. It's just made you a person that you weren't before.


KING: Our panel is now joined by the -- we complete the panel with Dina Merrill, the actress and vice chairperson of RKO Pictures, who first met Jackie Kennedy when JFK was a senator. We have seen a couple of things already, Oleg Cassini is with us, as is Elsa Klensch and Pamela Clarke Keogh.

What would you add, Dina, to the importance of Jacqueline Kennedy vis-a-vis fashion?

DINA MERRILL, ACTRESS: Well, what impressed me about her -- and particularly in looking at the books and refreshing my memory about her, because it's been a few years, obviously -- was the simplicity of the designs. They're really lovely, but they're very similar in so many way. So many are sleeveless, so many have the little quadrifoiled embellishment on them and that's all. You know, they're very simple.

KING: Fancy she wasn't.

KLENSCH: She got that simple look and she kept it, except for the buttons. Mr. Buttons. You put buttons on everything.

KING: Cassini gave big buttons.

CASSINI: Big buttons for everybody.

RED: Buttons here, buttons there, on the back, on the front.

KING: OK, we've got a lot of things to show you. This, by the way, is the hottest show in New York at the Metropolitan Museum. Now let's continue with Mr. Bowles and our next selection. Watch.


HAMISH BOWLES, EXHIBIT CURATOR: Jacqueline Kennedy has collaborated with the couture department at Bergdorf-Goodman, then under the direction of Ethel Frankau, on the design of her inaugural ball gown and cape. And again, I think, here one sees that the dress was a very elaborately beaded bodice, but it's very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with a chiffon overblouse, a device that Jacqueline Kennedy very much liked. And again, one has a sense of richness that is nevertheless understated. It's just a sort of shimmer of beading and embroidery seen lightly through chiffon.


KING: All right, Dina, we'll start with you as we go around. What made that special?

MERRILL: It's a look that carries on today. It's a timeless, timeless look, and beautiful detail. I thought it was lovely.

KING: That's the hardest thing to get, isn't it, Elsa? Permanence?

KLENSCH: Absolutely.

KING: Not a fad.

KLENSCH: But she had a genius for it. She just got the right look at the right moment, and that was a beautiful dress which could be worn today, I think everyone will agree with me.

KING: You agree?

KLENSCH: Yes, of course. Of course.

KING: When you design, Oleg, do you think in terms of this is forever, or do you think in terms of just today?

CASSINI: Well, I think the woman that you're looking at -- you're designing for women -- it has to be eternal beauty. So naturally, you minimize the clothes because you want to focus on the beauty of the woman.

KING: And then you can say she can wear this in five years.

CASSINI: Correct. Now, that particular dress, may I add -- may I add that she didn't like that dress. She designed it with Bergdorf, and she told me, "I will stop trying to design. I'm not a designer."

So this should be very clear.

KING: Let's now look at our next item with Hamish. Go.


BOWLES: On Valentine's Day 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy famously took the public through her work in progress restoration at the White House in a famous CBS special. The dress that she chose to wear for this event was another Chez Ninon model. It was a dress designed by Martin Beaumont, nearly installed as the couture designer at Christian Dior. One sees that in details like the sort of bateau neck and the overblouse effect, which is this idea that it looks like a two piece dress, but in fact there's a full dress underneath with a sort of silk bodice. So it's just a one-piece.

And of course, the American public, the 56 million people who tuned in to watch the TV special would have seen it as a sort of murky gray, which is one of the great revelations, I think, of this exhibition -- the extraordinary color sense that Jacqueline Kennedy had. And in this particular instance, one suddenly sees that it's a perfect Valentine's Day red.


KING: Everyone knows that dress because she wore it on national television, did a tour with it.

KLENSCH: It was too heavy, the fabric as too thick, it made her look too fat, the neckline was too ugly.

KING: You did not like it.

KLENSCH: I thought it was one of the worst things she wore.

KING: Try to have an opinion, will you, Elsa?


KLENSCH: No, but it did make her look fat.

KING: Pamela?

KEOGH: No, I think it's impossible to make Jackie Kennedy look fat. I thought she looked terrific in it. And what I was really glad to see at the show, in addition to seeing Chez Ninon, was the fact it was this gorgeous claret red. And that's the thing that people were shocked at when they do see at the Met, is the extraordinary colors. Like when she went to India, Cassini created those great oranges and greens. You know, that was wonderful.

KING: Dina, what did you think of it? Break the tie.

MERRILL: You know, I don't like those nubby fabrics. I think they do make you look heavy.

KLENSCH: Thank you, Dina. Right on.

MERRILL: I won't wear them because for that reason.

KING: Oleg?

CASSINI: The truth revisited according to modern concept. This was -- this young man is very good. He's very artistic, but he wasn't born 40 years ago. So his selection seems to be very peculiar to mean.

KING: You mean Hamish's?

CASSINI: Hamish's. He is very artistic. He did a very beautiful show there. But when it came to decide what was happening in my mind or Jackie's mind at that time 40 years ago...

KING: You don't like what he picked? You like some of what he picked, obviously.

CASSINI: Yes, I...

KING: You were going to say -- I will come right back to this.

You were going to say something?

KEOGH: My understanding is that every item at the Met is every piece of article they have in the JFK Library. They didn't choose what to -- anything they had, they cleaned out the closets.

KING: Let me get a break. We'll come right back with our panel and more of this fabulous display. Don't go away.


KENNEDY: It seemed to me such a shame when we came here, to find hardly anything of the past in the house, hardly anything before 1902. I know when we went to Columbia, the presidential palace there has all the history of that country in it -- where Simon Bolivar was -- every piece of furniture in it has some link with the past. I thought the White House should be like that.




KENNEDY: I just think that everything in the White House should be the best, the entertainment that's given here. And if it's an American company that you can help, I like to do that. If it's not, just as long as it's the best.


KING: We're back with our panel, and we return to Mr. Bowles and another creation of Mr. Cassini. Watch.


BOWLES: Jacqueline Kennedy conceived unique musicals and evening performances for the state dinners at the White House. And perhaps the most famous of these was a state dinner for the governor of Puerto Rico in November, 1961, where the Kennedys had persuaded Pablo Casals, the celebrated cellist, to come and perform at the White House. For this evening, Jacqueline Kennedy wore the Cassini-designed ensemble behind me. Although it has the formality of a grand evening dress, it's actually very contemporary and forward-thinking in feeling, in that you basically have this idea of a sort of beaded shell and a very simple skirt. I think the idea of Jacqueline Kennedy's evening dresses often is that grand decoration is sort of sublimated.


KING: OK, Dina, we know he's here, but what do you think of it?

MERRILL: That's something I'd wear today. It's amazing.

KING: Keep hearing that. Do you remember designing that, Oleg?

CASSINI: I remember very well, and I'm very flattered what she just said -- it's unlikely true. Every magazine in Europe has said this. I received so many magazines that say the look of Jackie is forever. It is a strange thing, I didn't realize it, I must tell you. But it is forever.

KLENSCH: But she never looked sexy. I mean, that is a beautiful dress, but it's cut high at the neck, the sleeves are out to there. She never wanted to look sexy.

KING: She didn't want it?

KLENSCH: She was very conscious that she was the wife of the president of the United States.

KEOGH: And the fact that she was a young woman and she was representing her country, and I think that is why the clothing is -- is elegant, is beautiful, but she is not supposed to look sexy.

KLENSCH: And she actually called them her state clothes.

KEOGH: Precisely. That's what it was.

KLENSCH: You know.

KING: Another dress we want to show you, designed by Oleg Cassini, is an azure blue evening gown that she wore in Mexico City: strapless, bared arms and shoulders, contemporary elegance. You like this one, Dina?

MERRILL: I loved it. I think this one is kind of a sexy dress, don't you think?

KING: Yeah, I think so. Oleg, did you think it's sexy when you designed it?

CASSINI: Yes, I was trying to put more sex into the whole picture.

KING: It worked, Oleg. Good thinking! (CROSSTALK)

KLENSCH: ... very, very -- and showed her body.

KEOGH: And she wore that dress a lot. She wore it in Newport with a beautiful diamond broach, so she obviously liked it. It was a great color for her.


KING: She took her risks too.

KLENSCH: Yeah, and the president probably liked it too.

KING: Well, let's go to No. 6, which I will describe.


KING: I'm going to describe this. This is an ivory wool tweed coat, worn at November 13 White House performance of pipes and drums of the Black Watch, the Royal Highland Regiment of the British army.

What do you think of that, Elsa?

KLENSCH: I think it is a beautiful Chanel coat. I don't think it's really her look. I think my friend here did better for her.

KING: Oleg, you are not going to...


KLENSCH: I think it's superb, but I mean, it really doesn't look -- it looks like Chanel, it doesn't look like Jackie Kennedy.


KING: Pamela likes everything in this!


KEOGH: I happen to be -- I'm wearing Chanel, so I am partial. No, I just wanted to say what was remarkable for me in seeing the show -- I mean, when you mentioned the Black Highland Watch, that was one of the last events that JFK went to before November, 1963, and they sat alone and watched them. So, when I see that article of clothing, I tend to attach more of the history of what was happening when she was wearing it.

KING: Oleg?

CASSINI: Well, I did (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because Chanel -- no, she never bought clothes from Chanel, never.

KING: But that was a Chanel coat.

CASSINI: It was a Chanel coat, but I mean no, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) no, it had nothing to do with Chanel. So it is an important fact.

KING: We'll be right back with more. You know, the designers, they woo and touch you. Don't go away.


KING: We're back. Let's go back to our curator and see this gown for a dinner at the White House, designed by Cassini.


BOWLES: The dress behind me was designed by Oleg Cassini for Jacqueline Kennedy, who wore it on April the 29th, 1962, for a dinner at the White House honoring Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere.

In a room full of rather structured evening dresses, it is atypical in that suddenly just this sense of sort of modern classical drapery and a liquid fabric. Earlier that year, Jacqueline Kennedy had written to Cassini requesting a dress that was a little drapey for a change, and it is intriguing to speculate that she might have been thinking about this event when she requested that.


KING: There were all Nobel Prize winners at that dinner, and Jack Kennedy made that famous toast: "This is the greatest assemblage of minds ever in this room, except when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone." Elsa, what do you think of that gown?

KLENSCH: I have to take it back, she did look sexy, and that was a beautiful dress. Absolutely beautiful.

CASSINI: I must say, this was a Greek-inspired thing, because with Jackie -- always tried to seduce, if you wish...

KING: Oleg!

CASSINI: Seducing the sense of fashion, I would say a Greek inspiration. It will be a nice change of pace, why you don't let me do something that is more to the body...

KING: Take a little risk.

CASSINI: A little risk. By the way, I must tell you I had to go to the president and have his permission for a sexier...

KING: Really?


KING: Dina, what do you think of that dress?

MERRILL: I loved that dress. That's one of my favorites in the whole thing. I bet the president didn't object to that.

KING: All right, now let's go to another one, this for a state dinner on May 11 of 1962. Watch.


BOWLES: In May of 1962, the Kennedys took the unusual step of giving a state dinner for Andre Malraux, who was the French minister of arts and culture. Usually, that was an honor reserved for heads of state.

At the end of that dinner to which Jacqueline Kennedy wore the further pink dress behind me designed by (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Christian Dior of New York, Malraux whispered to her that he promised to bring the Mona Lisa to America. By '62, Jacqueline Kennedy had become a little bit more adventurous in her evening statements, and that is why she has progressed from a rather modest dress to a strapless one, which of course set off her (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she was rightly proud.

KING: Pamela?


KING: What do you think of that?

KEOGH: Again, another gorgeous dress. What I like to think about is, you know, could a first lady today get away with that? I mean, look at those dresses, and...

KING: But she -- could Laura Bush wear that dress?


KEOGH: Possibly.

KING: Possibly -- you say yes. Could she, Oleg?

CASSINI: Not really.

KING: Because it's wrong for her?

CASSINI: Because it is wrong for her. Jackie had broad shoulders, long waist, very good for clothing, and so the clothes were designed to suit her body, so magically correct.

KING: Do you like that dress?


KING: Dina, do you like that?

MERRILL: I did, yes. And just what Oleg said, she has got -- she had wonderful shoulders and bone structure, and she held herself beautifully, she had beautiful posture.


KING: Let me describe the next one, it's an Oleg Cassini, it's a black evening dress worn February 19 at a state dinner in 1963. It is called Fortuny pleating -- narrow -- I don't know what I'm talking about -- narrow pleats running the length of the gown, accessorized with pearls and evening gloves, the hint of Egyptian princess in the gown -- "Cleopatra" was in production at the time -- honored the state -- the state dinner honored the president of Venezuela. Do you like that dress?

KLENSCH: I loved that dress, I love Fortuny pleating, because it moves...

KING: What does it mean, Fortuny?

KLENSCH: Fortuny is a type of pleating that was done in Venice by a man called Fortuny, and it moves with the body.

CASSINI: Fortuny is nice, refreshing look into that very, very rigid fit fabric that they used up to now, and I thought it was very pretty on her. She liked it a lot.

KING: Dina, you like it?

MERRILL: Yes, I like it. I thought it suited her very well. And she had lovely figure, and generally pleats like that make you look a little bit hippy or heavier, but not with her.

KING: Did she generally choose the right colors, Pamela?

KEOGH: Yes, I think she did, because what I love seeing, again, is the color, and I know...

KING: You can have a great dress and pick the wrong color.

KEOGH: Right. I know Mr. Cassini can discuss this more than I can, but I love -- I love the reds and the greens, and the oranges for India are brilliant, and you know -- and the black and the white, the white is very modern also.

KING: We will take a break, come back, reintroduce the panel -- and lots more to see. We are only halfway through. This is LARRY KING LIVE, don't go away.


KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE. This exhibit is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It will go back to the JFK Library in Washington. It'll come to Washington and the hopes are it will go to L.A. and Chicago and San Francisco.

Our panel, Oleg Cassini, Jacqueline Kennedy's often official White House designer. Wrote a book about it called "A Thousand Days of Magic." Else Klensch, certainly one of the world's best known fashion journalists, formerly of STYLE WITH ELSE KLENSCH on CNN and we miss her. Dina Merrill is in Los Angeles, the actress and vice chairperson of RKO Pictures. And here in New York is Pamela Clarke Keogh, author of "Jackie's Style." And our narrator on this tour is the guest curator for this exhibit, Hamish Bowles yes. And lets go back to him. BOWLES: This dress was designed by Antonio Castillo, a Spanish coterie then working for Lanvan in Paris. It was made, again, by Chez Ninon in New York. I think it's sort of fascinating because it really shows the sort of sensitive gestures that Jacqueline Kennedy, the diplomatic gestures that Jacqueline Kennedy was capable of. She had first worn this dress for a dinner at the Indian embassy in Washington in November of 1961 in the presence of Nehru, whom she much admired. And I think what's intriguing is that Nehru habitually wore a red, a dark red rose in the buttonhole of his eponymous Nehru jacket and by wearing a dress with this bodice lavishly embroidered with red roses, I think she's sort of paying him an overt compliment.

KING: He is saying there, Else, that she thought about everything.


KING: She thought about what color would Nehru like.

KLENSCH: She was incredible. Her mind dwelled on details. You should see some of the notes that she wrote. She used to send Halston to design her hats at Bergdorf Goodman and she used to send little sketches of every hat that she wanted for that season to match every dress. I mean details, details, details. She was incredible.

KING: Are you shaking your head no, Oleg?

CASSINI: Yes, I'm shaking my head because it's not quite true. For instance, this famous pill box that was supposedly designed by Halston, Halston was in the millinery department. I had to do the job with a girl called Marita. Jackie instructed me to work with Marita. And the famous paint box, which was not an important item, was designed by me because she needed to wear something...

KING: Why does he not get the credit?

KEOGH: Can I -- I don't mean to interrupt.

CASSINI: I read that in your book.

KEOGH: There's a man named Steven Gaines who did a biography of Halston. He wrote Jackie a letter. She called him on the telephone, left it on his answering machine and said it was Halston.

KING: Let's look at our next item, which this color is maybe unusual, hot pink. Watch.

HAMISH: Jacqueline Kennedy famously disliked prints, but the dress in the background is an exception to this. The fabric that she described as cloth of gold was a gift from the king of Saudi Arabia and she had it made up by Joan Morse, a designer who had a sort of chic Manhattan boutique called A La Carte. She actually wore it in Washington to a performance of Irving Berlin's musical, "Mr. President," appropriately enough, a charity performance. And in that incarnation, the bodice was made in green silk velvet like the tab on the little cape that you see with the dress. But she obviously liked the dress enough and the effect enough to have it remade for normal weather with a lighter fabric, which is what we, the incarnation in which we see it now.

KING: Dina, what did you think of that? That doesn't look like the other stuff we've been looking at.

MERRILL: It doesn't. Frankly, I don't like it as much as some of the other things that we've seen. But there again, she went for a color and something different and bravo, why not?

KLENSCH: Absolutely.

KING: What are you shaking now at, Oleg?

CASSINI: Well, what I'm saying is this, the dress was really ugly. Let's face it. She hated...

KING: Have a opinion, will you? Have an opinion.

CASSINI: I have an opinion. I have an opinion. It stank.

KING: OK. On that note, good -- let it come forward, Oleg.

KLENSCH: She shouldn't have done it. She was being polite.

KING: Hey, nobody's perfect.

KEOGH: The material was a gift so...

KING: We'll be back right after these words. Don't go away.


KING: Your sister changed a lot of fashion. I mean, we, people copied her, right?

LEE RADZIWILL: They certainly did. Well, people copied her and then they copied that whole era. But I do think that people are inclined when they romanticize those years to get carried away with the glamour and youth and style of the Kennedy White House. But there was so much more to it than that. It was far deeper and more interesting.



KING: We're back. Let's look at another item with our curator, Hamish Bowles. Watch.

HAMISH: In January of 1963, she wore the Cassini dress behind me to the unveiling of the Mona Lisa as it were, the opening of the exhibition in Washington at the National Gallery. The dress sort of reflects the craze for kind of Sari inspired clothing that followed in the wake of Jacqueline Kennedy's trip to India and Pakistan the year before. I think that even with a more daring strapless dress like this, Jacqueline Kennedy is still very much thinking about decorum and propriety and the opera length evening gloves that she sort of habitually wore for grand state evening occasions, I think, lend the finishing touch and suggest that spirit of formality.

KING: Few will deny that Oleg Cassini is one of the great designers in history.

KLENSCH: He certainly is, and that is a beautiful dress. And the embroidery is very, very, very lovely.

KING: That's gorgeous.

KLENSCH: Yes, and the way it falls, the little drop, I think it's very nice.

CASSINI: I can't tell you how flattered I am coming from you. But I'll tell you something, the most important thing of all this show was that an American designer hired by the first lady could produce work equal in quality to the best of the French and Italian designers.

KING: Was that part of it, too, that she wanted it be to an American designer?

KEOGH: Well, it had to be an American designers because of the ILGWU. I mean, Kennedy thought...

KING: The I.L. union?

KEOGH: They had, he had to win that election. There was no choice. It had to be an American.

KING: Dina, did you like that Cassini dress?

MERRILL: I loved that dress. That's one of my favorites. I think the embroidery is absolutely beautiful and I congratulate you, Oleg, for doing that.

KING: Now, I'm going to show you another Oleg. This was designed by Mr. Cassini and worn at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Palace in Paris. It was her first gala evening in France as first lady. The impact of the gown ruled on sophisticated handling of the amazing fabric. In a dinner toast, JFK said my preparation for the presidency did not include acquiring firsthand knowledge of France through diplomatic experience. I acquire it through marriage.

Cassini, what goes into this dress?

CASSINI: When she went to Paris she wore that dress and she had such a success. The French press, the experts applauded everything she had. So to her it was a victory.

KLENSCH: That fabric was so eye catching. The texture, the quality of the fabric, it's something the French would really appreciate. KEOGH: Well, and she did something that few, I don't think any other first lady and no other president has done. She elevated the stature of America in the eyes of the world through the state dinners, through the White House, through what she wore. So it's all of a piece.

KING: Did you ever, Oleg, design anything you regretted for her?

CASSINI: Yes. I designed one coat. We had a very big secular relationship with horses because she was a good equestrian and so was I. I sent her a pink coat, pink being a red coat with the black velvet and I thought it was a masterpiece. And she sent it right back to me. She said it's so heavy, you should be ashamed of yourself.

KING: Oleg does not spare himself. We mentioned Givenchy. Let's watch this next one designed by Givenchy.

HAMISH: For dinner in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles followed by a ballet performance in the theater at Versailles, Jacqueline Kennedy could finally, was free to wear a Paris designer dress because, of course, it was seen as a diplomatic gesture for her host, de Gaulle. And, in fact, she wore this Givenchy designed dress with its ravishing embroidery by Hurel. Thus dressed as a sort of paradigm of a chic young Parisian, Jacqueline Kennedy made a tremendous impact on de Gaulle. He famously told her that she looked as though she had stepped out of a painting by (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: He loved her. de Gaulle fell for her, right?

KEOGH: That, yes.

KLENSCH: They all did.

KEOGH: That is the home run out of the whole show. I had to lead a tour at the Met by myself one night and I just made everyone stop and said look at that.

KING: No home...

KEOGH: Because as Americans we're not used to seeing that level of quality, that detail, and that dress is, you know, what surprised me about the exhibit was how much of other people she wore. I would say half is Cassini but half is Givenchy and Chanel, and you know, Gustave Tassell in California. I mean, I think Jackie knew what she wanted and she found the people who could help her get, help her achieve that look, and that was part of her fashion intelligence.

KING: Do you like that dress, too, Dina?

MERRILL: I loved it. Beautiful dress. Beautiful dress.

KING: Did you like, Oleg?

CASSINI: A beautiful dress but what she said is absolutely incorrect. Totally incorrect. She didn't decide all these things. It's ridiculous. I mean... KING: Who did?

CASSINI: We made -- the designer decides. But you see...

KING: Yeah, but I...

KEOGH: She had a mock...

KING: ... sure, if I pick the car, you may like my car, but the designer designed the car.

CASSINI: Let me tell you something. The truth of the matter here...

KLENSCH: Well, you're not wearing the car. Sorry. Sorry.

CASSINI: The truth of the matter is that, you know, bringing dresses, this is an absolutely authentic dress, a beautiful dress. There were other things that were put in there that didn't belong.


CASSINI: I was the only designer in the White House and there was no other designer that ever walked into the White House.

KING: We will get a break on that note and come right back with more. Don't go away.


KING: As we continue with another Cassini, this was something important because she was known to impress world leaders overseas. Watch.

HAMISH: Jacqueline Kennedy had a similar effect on Premier Kruschev, the feisty Soviet leader who'd had a day of intense and unresolved negotiations with President Kennedy. For that evening, wearing the Oleg Cassini designed sequined sheath dress that's sort of emblematic of Western sophistication and glamour and also Cassini's own glamorous Hollywood past, she sort of melted and wowed the Soviet premier.

KING: Oleg, did you know she was going to wear that to meet Kruschev?

CASSINI: Yes, because she was absolutely fantastic with details. She would program a show in advance...

KING: So she knew it's Kruschev and this is what she wanted for him?

CASSINI: Yes, yes.

KING: And you would...

CASSINI: Yes. And she also would, for instance, when she went to India...

KING: We're going to see that in a minute. CASSINI: ... we had to study the weather because she knew that there would be monsoons and whatnot and the fabric had to be selected because of all of these factors.

KING: Let's watch this that he designed for her trip to India. Watch.

HAMISH: Jacqueline Kennedy, of course, was such a hit in Paris, the president famously introducing himself as the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, that he sent her on a goodwill tour of Indian and Pakistan the following year accompanied by her sister, Lee Radziwill. Arriving in New Delhi, for instance, on the first leg of her tour, she wore this Oleg Cassini designed coat in a color that Ambassador Kenneth Galbraith famously described as radioactive pink with a roller brim hat which, again, revealed her face to the public. And what's so fascinating is that when one sees color photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy on the tarmac, she's surrounded by all these women in extraordinarily patterned and colored saris and all you can really register is this triangle of hot pink in the middle of the space.

Later that afternoon, Jacqueline Kennedy changed into exactly the same coat, which, of course, again in a subtle way was a compliment to Nehru, as it sort of resembles one of his famous Nehru jackets, she changed into exactly the same outfit, the same shaped hat and same shaped coat, but in an ivory color to go and lay flowers on the shrine to Ghandi.

KING: Boy, Else, she didn't miss a beat, did she?

KLENSCH: Not for a second. She was really amazing. But, you know, Larry, when it's all said and done, what comes over is that smile. My god, she had a beautiful smile, didn't she?

KING: Did you enjoy working with her, Oleg?

CASSINI: Tremendously, because it was a challenge. You never knew if you were going to be out.

KING: Let's see another one, this designed by Tassell, a patterned dress and coat worn during that same trip to India. There you see it. She wore this for the famous camel ride with her sister Lee...

KLENSCH: Yeah, it was in...

KING: ... in Karachi on March 25th of '62. Elsa, you were saying?

KLENSCH: I'm saying that I did not approve of this. I really thought it was absolutely ridiculous for her to wear such a short skirt to climb up on an animal and -- it just wasn't the right thing for her to do.

KING: A mistake.

KLENSCH: Absolutely. Absolutely. KING: Pamela?

KEOGH: I think, what I think may have happened is that she obviously couldn't wear pants on an elephant, that they maybe didn't tell them that they were going to get up on an elephant and then they show up and...

KLENSCH: I don't agree. I'm sure she knew.

KING: We're going to take a break, show you a few more things and close the show. We urge you to, if you're in New York, get to see this or when it comes to a city near you. As we told you, the opening night there was nothing like it, April 23rd. Renee Zellweger wore a vintage Oleg Cassini, one of his great designs, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in a leopard print by De La Renta, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg jewelry belonging to her mother, Sigourney Weaver wore Christian Dior, and Naomi Campbell in a shirt saying "Like A Virgin." Designers Dulce & Gabbana wore ravaged jeans. Diana Ross with a huge hat like structure. All that at the April 23rd opening, one of the great openings in New York museum history.

We'll be back with our remaining moments after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thanks to her, if I am volunteering today, it's thanks to Jackie. She was an icon of elegance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think she represented something about American style first, about expressing yourself, you know, as an individual. She was such an inspiration.



KING: We want to show you one more before we get the final comments of our guests. This is a riding coat in Dunne and wine plaid that she wore around 1962. She wore this classic garment when she rode with the president's guard in New Delhi on March 14th, 1962. Like those boots, huh, Elsa?

KLENSCH: Yeah, pretty nice. I think this is the real Jackie Kennedy in the riding clothes because she loved to ride. She was a sportswoman. She loved casual clothes and she wore sportswear, immediately she left the White House, right into sportswear, jackets, pants, skirts, coats. I mean forget the state look. Forget those uptight dresses.

KING: Was she well-dressed into her later years, Pamela?

KEOGH: I think so, yes, because I think what she did...

KING: When she was an editor at Doubleday?

KEOGH: What she -- well, then she favored Valentino sort of silk trousers and pants. I think what she did was no matter what stage she was at her life, she was dressed appropriately for that time. So when she's hanging out with John in the park, she's wearing a pair of jeans.

KING: Dina, you knew her when she was married to Senator Kennedy.

MERRILL: Yes, that's right.

KING: Was she that much of a fashion idol then? Was she that aware of clothing?

MERRILL: Well, she seemed very casual to me, but every -- she looked beautiful. She was always very well put together and she was shy in those years.

KING: Yeah. She had to be casual out because she was a photographer and a working photographer, right?

KLENSCH: Absolutely.


KLENSCH: And that's one of the reasons she was so successful in putting together that look. She was a photographer. She knew how photographs turned out. She knew what women should wear.

KING: Do they pay top price, first ladies, or do they get it at a break, Oleg?

CASSINI: No, reasonable. Reasonable. But I want...

KING: Reasonable but not extraordinary?

CASSINI: I want to comment on what she just said. Jackie went into the White House with two dresses. Make your own conclusion. It was a new Jackie. The Jackie in the White House in those three years was a fantastic rediscovery of Jackie herself. From the wife of a senator, she became suddenly the first lady of the world and she knew how to handle it.

KING: Does that surprise you, Elsa?

KLENSCH: I think she learned a bit being a senator's wife, but I know that she made herself absolutely. And I think that's something we can all learn, many women can learn that. Get a look, stick to it.

KING: Rise to the occasion.


KING: Pamela?

KEOGH: Yes. I would say her, she had a real intelligence. She knew what worked for her. She found the people who could give her the look that worked for her and, you know, she worked with them. KLENSCH: She was a great lady.

KEOGH: She really was.

KING: We will not soon see her likes again, is that correct, Dina?

MERRILL: That is correct. And I think that Jack Kennedy discovered what a wonderful helpmate and wife she was in those years.

KING: And we've discovered it here tonight with this wonderful panel and this great exhibit at the Met.

Oleg Cassini, Else Klensch, Dina Merrill, Pamela Clark Keogh and we thank Hamish Bowles, the curator, for guiding us on our tour. We thank you for joining us. Stay tuned for "CNN TONIGHT." For all of our panel, I'm Larry King in New York. Good night.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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