A few things likely come to mind when you hear the name “Gloria Vanderbilt.” Perhaps, depending on when you were born, the first thought may be of Vanderbilt’s famous family. Along with being the mother of beloved television anchor Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt was the socialite daughter of wealthy railroad heir Reginald Vanderbilt who rose to prominence in New York City during the Gilded Age. Subsequently, Vanderbilt was the subject of the infamous 1934 “trial of the century” child custody battle between Vanderbilt’s mother and her paternal aunt.
For others, Vanderbilt is remembered for her contribution to fashion, because of the wildly popular line of designer jeans she launched in the 1970s that quickly made her a household name. In addition, Vanderbilt’s personal wardrobe and style were renowned, and she was in the Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
The last is likely her legacy—as both a tastemaker and artist. In addition to being a prominent fashion designer, Vanderbilt was a painter, ceramicist, glassmaker, and author.
Vanderbilt passed away on Monday, June 17, 2019 surrounded by loved ones at her home in New York City. Read ahead to hear more about her legendary life.
The Vanderbilt Legacy
The only child of millionaire railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and his second wife, Gloria Morgan, Gloria Vanderbilt was a member of the esteemed Vanderbilt family in New York City.
Once the wealthiest family in America, the Vanderbilts were responsible for commissioning some of the city’s greatest architectural landmarks, including the third (and current) iteration of Grand Central Terminal and their lavish grand mansions on Fifth Avenue.
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Gloria Vanderbilt launched her career as a fashion model when she appeared in Harper’s Bazaar at just 15 years old. She went on to study acting and appeared in a number of television dramas throughout the 1960s.
In the 1970s, Vanderbilt revolutionized the denim industry when she launched a line of designer blue jeans bearing her signature embroidered on the back pocket. Widely recognized as the creator of high-end denim, Vanderbilt eventually sold the rights to her name to the Murjani Group in 1978 and established her own company, GV Ltd., where she produced everything from dresses, leather goods, shoes, and bedding.
Celebrated Aesthetic Sense
Gloria Vanderbilt’s taste in home décor is every bit as celebrated as her iconic sense of fashion. Known for her fearless approach to bold, eclectic interiors, Vanderbilt relied heavily on eye-catching items such as brightly patterned textiles, arresting artwork, hand-painted tiles, and lavish decorative mirrors to create richly layered spaces that felt sophisticated—but were infused with pure Americana. Vanderbilt’s sought-after interiors earned her a reputation as a prominent tastemaker in the design world, while her home has been featured in the likes of Vogue and The New York Times.
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In addition to acting, modeling, and designing, Gloria Vanderbilt was also an artist and an author.
After studying at the Art Students League of New York, Vanderbilt began holding one-woman exhibitions of her oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels throughout the 1950s and ’60s in New York City. In 1968, Hallmark licensed her artwork for its greeting cards, and she also began designing textiles and pottery for Bloomcraft Fabrics.
In 2001, Vanderbilt held a small exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester which garnered both critical and commercial success. She followed up with another exhibition, with a total of 35 paintings, six years later at the same center in 2007.
As an author, Vanderbilt wrote two books on art and home décor, four volumes of memoirs, and three novels, and was a regular contributor to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Elle.
In April 2016, Vanderbilt released what would be her final book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss, which she coauthored with her son Anderson Cooper.