In August 1960, Jackie sent a letter to Diana Vreeland. In it she acknowledged that she needed to buy American clothes and make sure it was publicized. Vreeland, a well-known fashion columnist, suggested Jackie check out the designs of U.S. talent such as Stella Sloat, Ben Zuckerman, and Norman Norrell.
The influential social columnist Igor Cassini — who wrote under the pseudonym Cholly Knickerbocker — heard that Jackie was interviewing designers. Igor, who had once named Jackie Debutante of the Year, suggested to his brother Oleg, a moderately successful designer, that he should submit some designs. Oleg was already familiar to the family because he had gotten to know Joseph Kennedy through the New York City social scene. Oleg wrote Jackie prior to the November 8 presidential election pitching himself for the job. She responded by asking him to submit some sketches. She liked what she saw and asked Cassini to start work on her spring wardrobe.
Oleg Cassini Loiewski was born in Paris on April 11, 1913. He immigrated to the United States in 1936 with $35 in his pocket, a dinner jacket, and a tennis racket. Cassini designed for film, television, and theater and made ready-to-wear clothes for clothing store sales. Working with Jackie made Cassini one of the most well-known designers of the 1960s, and he went on to run his own design empire.
A Distinct Look
Jackie told Cassini she wanted to dress as if her husband were president of France. He reportedly made more than 300 outfits for Jackie, which Joe Kennedy paid for. The wardrobe Oleg conceived was intentionally reminiscent of Givenchy and other French designers. He made the clothes in the bright, solid colors Jackie favored. He added coat pockets and large buttons so the clothes would be more photogenic. Jackie became known for Cassini's simple, geometric dresses featuring sleeveless A-lines, three-quarter length sleeves, overblouse dresses, and mantillas.
The First Lady's most famous fashion accessory, the pillbox hat, was the creation of a then-unknown milliner named Halston. Jackie wore a pillbox hat at the inauguration and sparked a new trend. The ensuing popularity of the fashion accessory made Halston a household name and helped launch his clothing design career.
Jackie's decision to make Cassini her only designer surprised many in the industry. For one thing, Oleg had been around a long time without ever distinguishing himself as a trendsetter. In addition, he was best known for sexy, body-hugging designs — definitely not the image of a First Lady. But the sketches he submitted fit Jackie perfectly. They were stylish but understated and suggested a sleek elegance. They would make Cassini the most famous designer in the world.