The man who created the bulk of first lady Jackie Kennedy's wardrobe is dead

March 18, 2006 01:00 PM

Oleg Cassini, the designer who turned first lady Jacqueline Kennedy into an international fashion icon, died Friday on Long Island, N.Y., said a spokesman for his company, Oleg Cassini Inc. He was 92, and no cause of death has been reported.

Cassini, who was born in Paris to wealthy, aristocratic Russian parents (who had fled Russia after the revolution), was no stranger to glamorous women.

He dated Grace Kelly and was married to film beauty Gene Tierney for nine years. Though the fairy tale marriage eventually ended in divorce in 1952, they had two children, one of which – a daughter – was born handicapped after a fan seeking an autograph gave Tierney measles while the actress was pregnant.

An elegant man himself, Cassini was designing until only recently, creating a look in December for a New York cabaret appearance by Kathryn Crosby, the widow of Bing Crosby. In person Cassini was a gentleman of the old school – courtly, distinguished looking, with impeccable manners.

Besides his house on Long Island, he had a townhouse in New York’s fashionable Gramercy Park, a residence that resembled a medieval castle, complete with suits of armor. And despite his slight frame, he always maintained a strong, wiry physique, keeping up his tennis game. He also smoked Cuban cigars.

But it will be as Jackie’s designer that Cassini’s name will lie forever. Although the first lady did wear clothes by others, Cassini provided the bulk of her wardrobe, later estimating that in the three years of the Kennedy administration he had created 300 outfits.

“The look” began on JFK’s Inauguration Day, with 31-year-old Jackie’s outfit of a fawn-colored wool coat with a sable collar, over a matching wool dress and a pillbox hat. As Cassini later recalled: “The other ladies wore fur coats, and they looked like bears.”

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