Jackie's Knockoff Artist?
When American designer Oleg Cassini passed away on March 17, reams of obituaries celebrated his transformation of Jackie Kennedy into a style icon during her term as First Lady, his long-term success in the fashion business, and the fabled charm that captivated a series of well-known leading ladies.
Few papers, however, mentioned longstanding charges that he was less the creator of Jackie's public image and more her house knockoff artist. In a 2002 review of an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, for example, the Washington Post challenges the Jackie myth:
In her civilian days, if she hadn't worn outfits of any great historical significance, at least she favored the great Parisian names -- Chanel, Balenciaga, Givenchy -- that had helped shape fashion history. But after Nixon manages to raise a fuss about the new first lady's Francophilic tastes and unions pressured Jack to buy at home, Jackie had to downplay her preference for these important fashion houses. With occasional exceptions, when she appeared in public she had her favorite French originals copied by U.S. makers, such as Hollywood designer Oleg Cassini, a Kennedy family friend, or New York knockoff queens Nona Park and Sophie Shonnard. (On the occasions that she still wore French originals, she seems sometimes to have had their telltale labels snipped off first.)
Perhaps Cassini was one of those on fellow designer Norman Norell's mind in 1965 when he said, "If only American designers would create their own designs, we'd be so strong. We'd influence the world. I want to scold American designers, and myself included."
Naturally, as a designer and a gentleman, Cassini denied any such charges regarding the First Lady's regalia -- and with both parties now presumably wearing white robes and wings, we may never know for sure. But originals or copies, at least the costumes of Camelot were "made in U.S.A."