Long before Instagram, stylists and selfies there was authentic street fashion. And the queen was Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. As a former publicist for Calvin Klein and wife of John F. Kennedy, Jr., she knew the media game well, she just chose not to play it.
Carolyn would have turned 50 years old this Thursday, January 7, if her life had not been cut tragically short in the plane crash that killed her, John and her sister Lauren nearly 17 years ago.
Unlike today’s army of bloggers meticulously documenting their every sartorial move, Carolyn was effortlessly chic and stylish... and private. The idea of tipping off the paparazzi to her whereabouts so she could get publicity would seem ludicrous to her.
And getting PAID to wear something? Not on your life.
According to John’s long-time assistant, RoseMarie Terenzio, Carolyn never accepted designer freebies.
“She always said, ‘I have to pay for it... and if not, unfortunately, I have to send it back.’”
The late blonde’s stylish influence is still evident today. For example, on 2 Broke Girls, the US TV sitcom from Sex and The City creator Michael Patrick King, lead character Caroline Channing is based on Carolyn.
The show’s costume designer Trayce Field explains, “Caroline’s inspiration was Carolyn Bessette. Classy, yet stylish, young [and] fresh with her own slight twist on things. Everything she touches has the feeling of being rich”.
To prepare for the role of Gone Girl’s “Amazing Amy” director David Fincher had Rosamund Pike study pictures of Carolyn. After extensive research, Pike said she found countless photographs, “But I could find nothing of her in her own words.”
She was the former fashion publicist who never gave an interview and most people never even heard her voice.
The much-watched wife of the much-loved late JFK’s only son was an enigma and preferred to keep it that way. There was no “Keeping Up With Carolyn” mentality documenting every wax, workout and relationship drama.
She landed on the International Best Dress list without even trying. She was usually snapped walking her dog around her TriBeCa neighbourhood or appearing at select charity events, usually wearing black.
But it was The Dress that sealed her fate as a style icon. The simple white slip dress she wore when she married John in 1996. The pair astoundingly kept their marriage a secret from the media and released only one photograph. But that picture spoke volumes.
There was not a scrap of lace, a bead, a pearl or a sequin on her wedding dress. With just a gorgeous silk sheath, Carolyn single-handedly killed off the meringue and is still influencing brides two decades later.
There will never be another Carolyn, but the media will try to find one. Manhattan was in a frenzy when Amal Clooney arrived last year to teach at Columbia Law School. “Is Amal Clooney New York’s Next Carolyn Bessette?” the headlines asked.
There are indeed There are indeed similarities — both found themselves instant celebrities after marrying uber-famous spouses. Both have attracted admiration for being smart, sexy and — of course — stylish. But the next Carolyn? I don’t think so, but thanks for playing.
Almost two decades after her premature death, the late Ms Bessette-Kennedy continues to influence designers with the poster girl for 90s minimalism front and centre of the current 90s fashion revival. Most recently she served as an inspiration for Michael Kors’ Autumn/Winter 2015 collection.
“I started to think about women... who were really elegant and understood luxury but also understood the power of something more restrained and quiet. People like the Duchess of Windsor in the 30s, then Babe Paley in the 60s and going all the way to the 90s with Carolyn Bessette Kennedy — they all had that fabulous balance,” explained the famed New York City-based designer.
Carolyn was undeniably sexy AND understated. The six-foot-tall willowy blonde never “got the girls out”. Can you imagine her getting inked? Or, God forbid, posing for a belfie (butt selfie)? Quelle horreur!
In this era of oversharing, it’s refreshing to remember a simpler time. A time when a beautiful but understated 30something was the epitome of elegance. Of grace. And of discretion. Qualities that are sadly missing today.
She will forever be etched into our memories as the ethereal blonde beauty whose legacy far outweighed her 33 brief years. Happy birthday, CBK.
Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, the late wife of JFK Jr., never posed for a belfie. She knew the media game but she chose not to play it. (Pic: Supplied)