- Sep 28, 2004
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Dear Folks: Last week, for no particular reason, I read the autobiography of Oleg Cassini. Cassini had a rich life: he married Gene Tierney, romanced Grace Kelly, and dated countless others. He was in the clothing business for almost 70 years. His highest point was the early 60s, when he designed all of the clothing Jackie Kennedy wore during her White House years. His menswear notes included boldly colored shirts for men and other things that made the sixties the sixties. Now he is known for a lot of mass-market licensed goods. The memoirs themselves, though probably ghostwritten, are rich in both emotional sensitivity and sartorial detail. Some passages are worth transcribing here. Cassini himself had an odd face that he grew into. He had broad shoulders and a narrow waist (in his 30s, it was 29 inches, as he notes). Weighed about 160, and was extremely well tailored throughout his life. The book was published in 1987, when he was over 70, but he lived almost two decades more, passing in 2006, aged 92. He credited his Mediterranean diet and aggressive athleticism for preserving him as well as he was. Cassini around 1960:Cassini signing books at Lord & Taylor in the last year of his life: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/..._slide_06b.jpg FIRST EXCERPT: Cassini was born in Paris, in 1913. "My father was employed, at the time, in the pursuit of pleasure; that was his occupation. He was Count Alexander Loiewski, the son of a very successful Russian lawyer who specialized in finding lost heirs to great fortunes. He was short, about five feet eight inches, with handsome, even features that I did not inherit. He spent much of his time either eating or preparing to be fed. He would consult with restaurants about their menus in advance and then loiter three or four hours over a meal, return home for a nap, and awaken in time to eat again. "His other primary occupation was going to the tailor, an event of the utmost seriousness: fittings might continue for hours. He was quite a dandy and practically lived at Charvet in Paris, where he bought shirts and ties. His shoes were made by Loeb, and his suits by Brandoni of Milan. He owned several hundred shirts, all of them in silk of various colors. Later, in the 1960s, when I created a revolution in men's fashion by reintroducing colored shirts, it was from memories of Father's wardrobe. He would send the shirts, fifty at a time to London for laundering. He also claimed to own 552 ties. ... "A very fastidious man, a fanatic about hygiene, always formally dressed, even in our most desperate moments of poverty. If he removed his jacket, it was replaced by a silk robe. He was a man of great dignity, even in despair."