Having worked with around 200 designers and fashion and lifestyle personalities I had very few that were difficult to work with, actually, I think 5 in total. My post today is one such designer. You know by now that I don’t like to do negative posts so I will try to twist this into a positive piece!
I chose Oleg Cassini to profile today because the film, Jackie, has just opened and most of you will know Cassini as having designed Jackie Kennedy’s clothes, at least when she wasn’t wearing Parisian garments. He was brought in to replicate the designs of Givenchy and Balenciaga and use the same fabrics. He produced approximately 300 garments for Jackie when she was First Lady and Cassini was the first official First Lady designer.
Oleg Cassini in his prime, movie star handsome.
With his wife Gene Tierney
Over the years, Cassini was romantically linked to many Hollywood actresses, but his most important relationship and collaboration were with actress, Gene Tierney, who was both his wife and his muse. As a costume designer. Cassini created the gowns wore by Tierney in The Razor’s Edge (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and Night and the City (1950). Interestingly Tierney’s costumes in Laura (1944), by far my favorite of her films, (although I do love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, probably because I adore Rex Harrison in anything), were designed by then costume designer, Bonnie Cashin…profile upcoming on a Fashion Flashback.
Inaugural Ball gown by Oleg Cassini 1961
Televised White House tour outfit, 1962.
All interesting but how does this relate to my working with him at Saks Fifth Avenue in the early 1960’s. Cassini came to the Chicago store for several years to present formal shows of his collection to benefit the Catholic charity, Caritas, a favorite cause of the Kennedy’s, at the Chicago Hilton. All the Kennedy ladies attended, including Rose, with the exception of Jackie. The show was, of course, modeled by professionals but the Kennedy ladies modeled as well with the exception of Rose. Cassini usually brought a “model” with him that we included in a couple of outfits. The shows were always presented to a totally filled house.
His ready-to-wear collection was a total departure from the rest of Saks Fifth Avenue’s designer collections. The collections were always provocative with deep keyhole necklines, slit bodices, to reveal bosom, certainly not the look of the First Lady he was designing for. All the shows, during that time, were commentated and if a designer so wished they did the commentating. Cassini was always very outspoken (to say the least!) and more often than not brought gasps from the audiences. As we always did when we had a personal appearance of a designer, we presented the full show for the staff, before store opening, as well as doing a formal show for invited devotees of that particular collection. He didn’t change his verbiage for any of the presentations One never knew how far he would go not only with his designs but with his words. Being very seductive, sexy collections, I had to find models that weren’t the typical body structure we were use to, although in the 1950’s and early 1960’s the models were a bit curvier. In particular, I needed bosom for the deep decolletage, and narrow hips (one can flatten but hard to enhance what isn’t there!!!). Once I found them I used them for all the Cassini events and in some other shows as well. The garments pictured below look very tame today…but, believe me, they were very risque. We sold the collection like crazy, there wasn’t anything else like it.
Low deep slit neckline
Modified raised neckline sample would have been much deeper
Dress cut very low in sample piece
Now, you might wonder why I found Mr. Cassini a difficult designer to work with…well he verbally abused the models and staff, as well as making lewd comments to the models and I would not then nor now have anyone working with me to be mistreated in any way. You can say what you like to me but not anyone who works with me! Also remember I was very young and was standing up to a major designer/personality, it took a lot of guts to tell him that the Store would not put up with such behavior, fortunately for me, my Store Manager, Hal Clyne, totally agreed with me and Mr. Cassini’s days were numbered at the Chicago store. A total shame and loss of business but he definitely went too far. Can you imagine that happening today…I can’t nor did we have that from any other of our many other creators, they were gentlemen and ladies. The Cassini label can now be seen in quite beautiful wedding dresses.
For more on Oleg Cassini see his autobiography In My Own Fashion
A Thousand Days of Magic
The Wedding Dress