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Heiress and fashion icon: six things Gloria Vanderbilt will be remembered for

Making headlines since birth, fashion designer, socialite and artist Gloria Vanderbilt died at aged 95 after leading an extraordinary life.

Gloria Vanderbilt

As a fashion designer, actress, artist, heiress, author and socialite, Gloria Vanderbilt’s remarkable life has left its mark on many.

The flamboyant 95-year-old died in her New York home on Monday surrounded by friends and family, following a short battle with advanced stomach cancer.

“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman who loved life and lived it on her own terms,” said her son, CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, in a statement.

“She was a painter, a writer and designer, but also a remarkable mother, wife and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her and they’d tell you she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern.”

Gloria Vanderbilt
CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Photo: Hollywood Reporter Twitter.

Here are six things Gloria Vanderbilt will be remembered for:

  1. Her life was chronicled in sensational headlines

    Born into the public eye, Vanderbilt’s childhood dramas, four marriages and three divorces were all embellished by the news media. She was labelled the “poor little rich girl” during the Great Depression, as the object of a custody battle between her globe-trotting mother and patriarchal aunt. As the great-great-granddaughter of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, she later leveraged her social status to break into the fashion industry, first as a model and later as a high-profile fashion designer.

  2. She inherited US$4.3 million and used it to fuel her passions

    Vanderbilt inherited her US$4.3 million trust at the age of 18 months, assuming control of the money on her 21st birthday in 1945. A year later, she cut off financial support to her mother, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship. Vanderbilt would go on to use the fortune to help fuel her passions for acting, modelling, painting and designing.

  3. She held her first art exhibition in 1948

    A talented painter and collagist, Vanderbilt pursued her passion for art and opened her first exhibition in 1948 at the age of 24. In 2001, she held the highly successful Dream Boxes exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, followed by another exhibition of 35 paintings at the Arts Center in 2007. View her full collection here.

  4. She had a successful theatre and TV career

    In 1954, Vanderbilt took to the stage. Her first production, a romantic drama called The Swan, inspired the signature logo she later used as a fashion designer. She went on to feature in The Time of Your Life on Broadway and appeared in several live and filmed television shows including Playhouse 90, Studio One in Hollywood, Kraft Theater and US Steel Hour.

  5. Gloria Vanderbilt
    Gloria Vanderbilt, the jeans queen.
  6. She pioneered designer jeans

    In 1976, Vanderbilt and Mohan Murjani teamed up to launch a line of designer jeans under the name Gloria Vanderbilt by Murjani. At its peak in 1980, the company was generating upwards of US$200 million in sales. The brand is still regarded as one of the best denim lines in the market today, offering a wide range of fabrics, fits and details. She later branched out into shoes, scarves, table and bed linens and china, through her company Gloria Concepts.

  7. She wrote eight books

    Her collection includes a book of poems published in 1955 and a 2004 memoir of her love affairs: It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, which featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes.

    At the age of 85, she shocked New York when she released a graphic erotic novel. In an interview with The New York Times, she said she wasn’t embarrassed about the explicitness of her the book, saying: “I don’t think age has anything to do with what you write about. The only thing that would embarrass me is bad writing.”

Vanderbilt’s son, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, paid tribute to his mother’s life in the following video.

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