Fashion icon and artist Gloria Vanderbilt dies at 95

Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, talk about their new book, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes."

Posted: Jun 17, 2019 12:00 PM
Updated: Jun 17, 2019 12:00 PM

Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper. The fashion designer and socialite was 95.

Vanderbilt died at home with friends and family at her side.

"Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms," Cooper said in a statement. "She was a painter, a writer and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend.

"She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they'd tell you: She was the youngest person they knew -- the coolest and most modern."

Born in New York in 1924, Gloria Laura Morgan Vanderbilt grew up in France. Her father, financier Reginald Vanderbilt, the heir to a railroad fortune, died when she was a baby.

Young Gloria was the focus of media attention at an early age, dubbed "the poor little rich girl" amid an intense custody battle between her mother and her father's enormously wealthy sister, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The latter prevailed in court proceedings.

"As a teenager she tried to avoid the spotlight, but reporters and cameramen followed her everywhere," Cooper said. "She was determined to make something of her life, determined to make a name for herself, and find the love she so desperately needed."

Her first marriage was to Hollywood agent Pat DiCicco in 1941, when Vanderbilt was 17.

At 21, she took control of a $4.3 million trust fund her father had left her. She divorced DiCicco two months later, promptly remarried -- this time, to conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was 63 at the time.

"I knew him for a week and married three weeks later," she once told Cooper during an interview.

Asked if her friends thought it was weird that she had fallen for a man four decades her senior, she said, "It didn't matter to me."

With Stokowski, she began pursuing her passions, beginning with her artwork, which she first put on exhibit in 1948. She had two sons with Stokowski: Leopold Stokowski was born in 1950, and Christopher Stokowski in 1952.

In 1954, she made her stage debut in a production of the romantic drama, "The Swan," at the Pocono Playhouse in Mountainhome, Pennsylvania. She published a book of poetry the following year, the same year she divorced Stokowski.

She found love again in Hollywood with director and producer Sidney Lumet, who would go on to earn multiple Academy Award nominations for films such as "12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network." The two married in 1956.

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 trademark swan logo.

"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," Cooper said. "Her private self, her real self -- that was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public.

"I always thought of her as a visitor from another world, a traveler stranded here who'd come from a distant star that burned out long ago. I always felt it my job to protect her."

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