The Late Carolyn Bessette Becomes a Style Icon on Instagram: 'She's Endlessly Fascinating'
Twenty-two years after the death of Carolyn Bessette and husband John F. Kennedy Jr., social media users celebrate Carolyn's signature spirit: "I think she would be amused and delighted," a friend says
She never gave an interview after she married John F. Kennedy Jr., a man famous since the day he was born, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's silence and deep sense of privacy created a mystery around her that lasts to this day.
Still, 22 years after the couple's death in a plane crash off of Martha's Vineyard, their influence lives on — even, in Carolyn's case, in unexpected ways as a new generation celebrates her life in a variety of popular Instagrams such as Carolyn Iconic and CBK's Closet, which focus not only her unique fashions but her independent spirit.
("Queen of New York minimalist chic," gushes one such account.)
"A new generation has discovered her," says RoseMarie Terenzio, a close friend of both John and Carolyn. "Her style is not just about fashion but also the way she carried herself and her quiet confidence and her relatability ... and I think that comes through. As private as she was, I think she would be amused and delighted and proud that her influence lives on."
When financial analyst Mary Taylor, 23, wanted to learn more about Carolyn a few years ago, she says, "there weren't a lot of resources online. Definitely no Instagrams. So I thought if there aren't any accounts commemorating her style and her legacy, why don't I just do it?"
And so she did: Taylor's tribute page, created in 2018, quickly took off. (Today it has some 30,000 followers, which she calls "mind blowing.")
Taylor originally began by posting photos from Google of Carolyn's street style and evening looks and sharing anecdotes from books such as Terenzio's Fairytale Interrupted and JFK Jr., George and Me, by Matt Berman, another close friend who worked at John's wave-making '90s magazine George.
After her account was up and running, Taylor says, "People started reaching out to me, some of [Carolyn's] friends from work and others who knew her would send photos and share stories. And it grew from here."
"I grew up in a generation that gravitated towards the Kardashians, a very ostentatious look," Taylor explains. "What I like about Carolyn was that she had a quiet, refined, classic look and I think people are gravitating towards that. It's simple, attainable, functional and chic — a black dress, a white shirt, the red lip. She's endlessly fascinating to the fashion world and [an] inspiration for so many designers."
Taylor makes it a point to also include stories and anecdotes beyond the wardrobe. "She was mysterious," she says of Carolyn, who worked as a Calvin Klein publicist before her death. "She had a big personality, was very creative and, by all accounts, a very loyal friend. More than being a super cool person fashion wise, she was a goodhearted person and I wanted to honor her legacy. A lot of people still care."
George Carr, brother of Calvin Klein's onetime creative director Zack Carr, is a huge fan of all the social media accounts that celebrate her life.
"Carolyn was the American and contemporary version of Audrey Hepburn," says Carr. "Zack was enchanted by her. She was his muse, the inspiration for thousands of his sketches. She had an all-American beauty. Not a model. Not an aristocrat. Not a celebrity. It was never contrived. Calvin [Klein] saw it immediately and so did Zack."
"She was one of the chicest people in the world, the woman of the moment," adds George, who wrote a book celebrating his brother's designs. (Zack died of cancer in 2000.)
"The pain of losing her is still here," he says "but we can also admire her for her intelligence and her beauty and personality."
Still, it can be a bit bittersweet for those close to Carolyn.
"Those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, we all keep part of her legacy with us every day," says Terenzio. "In the things we do every day, I often think: What would Carolyn do, what would she think of this? It's a standard to hold yourself up to — and at the same time keeps her memory alive for those of us who knew her. I will always be sad that she's gone, but I try to remember that we were lucky enough to know her and have her as a friend."