Style Icons: Gloria Vanderbilt and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

22/08/2011 § 8 Comments

While the Vanderbilt men are infinitely fascinating and iconic, I can’t help but to also be strongly drawn to the Vanderbilt women.  Here I present the two I am most obsessed with, Gloria Vanderbilt, and her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: two amazing women who always seek (in the case of Gloria) and sought (in the case of Gertrude) their own path.  If you have not yet picked up The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman, I urge you to do so.  Looking at the book’s pictures of the Vanderbilts and the fabulous homes they lived in is a frequent pleasure of mine.

Gloria Vanderbilt is many things: an heiress, a painter, an actor, a muse, a designer, a model, a writer, an entrepreneur, a survivor, an icon.  She brought the Vanderbilt name out of the Gilded Age and into the Digital Age, reinventing herself over and over along the way.

From: The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman

With her mother, Gloria Morgan, and governess.  Gloria’s mother lost custody of her in 1934, after a scandalous trial.  Gloria’s paternal aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was awarded custody.

With aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and cousin Henry Payne Whitney.

With aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.
Love the trunks.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney “…was a formidable , complex woman who had emerged from her own trials within the gilded cage of her family and marriage to Harry Payne Whitney…Harry Payne Whitney was the perfect, dashing millionaire match for a Vanderbilt heiress…But Gertrude discovered early on that unless she made her own life, she would suffer the same fate as so many heiress wives whose husbands found their fun and passion outside of the marriage.  Thus she cultivated a life in the arts, both as a patron and a sculptor.  She founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down her offer of seven hundred American paintings from her collection in 1929.”

From: The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, painted by Robert Henri, 1916

Gloria remembers Gertrude as “tall and extremely thin and [having] exquisite taste in the way she presented herself.  At Old Westbury she would wear variations of the same look — beautifully cut English slacks with tailored silk shirts, several ropes of pearls and hats (in the house) made of tweed and a jaunty feather tucked in.  It was considered eccentric in 1932 for a woman to wear pants, and the first time I met her at Old Westbury I was quite startled, never having seen a woman in pants before.”

From: The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman

Fifteen year-old Gloria appearing in Harper’s Bazaar for the first time in 1940, at the request of then fashion editor Diana Vreeland, who met Gloria at Gertrude’s home at Old Westbury.

With third husband Sidney Lumet.

With Salvador Dali.

With Lumet.

With fourth husband Wyatt Cooper.

With sons Carter and Anderson Cooper.


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§ 8 Responses to Style Icons: Gloria Vanderbilt and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

  • Ritournelle says:

    Your post made me head to Wikipedia to know more about Gloria and her aunt. Fascinating lives! To think that Anderson Cooper comes from that background…

  • David Navarre says:

    Like Ritournelle, it prompted me to check Wikipedia as well! I had no idea she was Cooper mother. Very interesting.

    • Mariah says:

      They are such interesting ladies, from a fascinating family, no? I’m glad to “introduce” you. Thank you for stopping by!

  • Ariana Rodriguez says:

    Fascinating lives? Really? Gertrude did what ever please because she had a family fortune behind her ( not made by her) and thanks to her aunt Gloria had a traumatic childhood. Four failed marriages, a son’s suicide… what is so fascinating about that? Oh yes she put her name on jeans .

    • Hi Ariana,

      I won’t fault Gertrude for being born into money (something she had no control over), nor for her choice to patronize the arts and promote women artists. I also don’t doubt that Gertrude entered the custody battle because she thought she was doing the right thing for Gloria. Familial matters are difficult no matter how much money is involved; add a lot of money and the matters complicate exponentially. As for Gloria, I am amazed at how she continues to persevere and reinvent herself, no matter what life throws at her. I definitely believe these women lead fascinating lives. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this, and I’m happy to.

      Thank you for your opinion and for stopping by.


  • Lisa says:

    Well, I for one, think she is (still) beautiful. It would be easy to become jealous of such class…..I prefer to be an admirer of Gloria Vanderbilt.

  • CR says:

    Why was Gertrude’s art collection rejected by the Met?
    Anderson, has stated that after Gloria’s aunt Gertrude, won custody, she was very mean to his mother as a child. After Gloria was removed from her mother, aunt Gertrude, also dismissed her beloved nanny Dodo. In death, Gertrude left Gloria only a bracelet….Familial matters are always difficult, but aunt Gertrude still comes out looking bad in regards to Gloria.

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