They were “The Perfect Fit” — curve-hugging and tapered in just the right place, Gloria Vanderbilt‘s designer, dark denim accentuated with an embroidered swan across women’s hips throughout America during the 1970s.
But how did the socialite from one of the country’s most storied families wind up with her name on the most prosaic wardrobe staples around? It all started with housewares.
“I had a career doing [home design products] for about three years, traveling all over to different stores to introduce each collection,” Vanderbilt explains in a recent interview with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle. “Then, I had my own business on [N.Y.C.’s] Seventh Avenue for two years, a dress-designing business. We had problems and that was going bust.”
Watch more of The Jess Cagle Interview with Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt all this week on People.com.
It was only after she met Mohan Murjani of India, who then owned a blouse company also on Seventh Avenue, that Vanderbilt’s career in fashion took off.
“So, I went from my own designing dress business on Seventh Avenue to designing blouses for Murjani,” the 92-year-old said. “And, there was a merchandising genius called Warren Hersch, and he had to manage the company. We were talking one day and he said,’Murjani’s, they’ve got all this denim fabric stored away in Hong Kong.’ So I said, ‘Why don’t we make jeans, a really great fit jean?’ “
She promoted the line on television and placed ads on buses, and the strategy worked: The jeans were a hit, so much so that son Anderson Cooper felt he couldn’t avoid the Gloria Vanderbilt line, no matter where he went.
Video: More from the Jess Cagle Interview!
“I remember my brother and I had a game that throughout the day, we would try to count how many women we saw with our mom’s names on their jeans,” Cooper told Cagle, calling the experience “interesting.”
The CNN host added, “I mean, I always knew she was sort of well-known. But, it sort of took it to a whole other level.”
For more on Anderson Cooper’s extraordinary relationship with his mother Glorida Vanderbilt, pick up a copy for this week’s PEOPLE magazine on newsstands Friday.
Denim elevated the already-prominent Vanderbilt to a household name, according to Cooper, who said that people would stop Vanderbilt on the street to compliment her pants.
Vanderbilt’s design days are far from over: you can still purchase her jeans in an array of styles and colors, from the comfort of your home and at Kohl’s.
Cooper and Vanderbilt’s memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love, and Loss will be available from Harper on April 5.
Did you or anyone you know own Gloria Vanderbilt jeans?
— Lindsay Kimble