PARIS-As hope here faded that CNN would interrupt its global broadcast with the image of John F. Kennedy Jr. rising from the sea near Martha’s Vineyard with his wife Carolyn, and her sister Lauren, safe in his arms, the fashion world mourned, too.
Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot? Where were you when John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane disappeared? Fashion retailers and editors had convened in Paris for the last couture shows of the 20th century. “It is such a strange disconnect from America,” offered Fairchild Publications’ editorial director Patrick McCarthy, a friend of Mrs. Kennedy. “It is not very satisfying being away from home now.”
Denial, anyone? The shows go on. Ivana Trump and Joan Collins, hair apparent, blazed front row at Valentino’s show on July 18. Madonna avoided most reporters’ questions about her alleged onetime affair with Mr. Kennedy, and kept the dancing going until the wee hours at Donatella Versace’s party after her show at the Ritz Hotel on July 17. The rock star formerly known as Prince was in residence at his apartment on the Avenue Foch. Wearing another beaded jumpsuit, he also attended the Versace show and party, as did Star Wars director George Lucas. On the evening of July 19, at the end of an impossibly beautiful sunny day, the action shifted to Versailles, where John Galliano’s couture show for Christian Dior was presented at L’Orangerie of the Château de Versailles. Royalty used to arrive in horse-drawn carriages. Sean (Puff Daddy) Combs and his entourage came in a parade of Mercedes jeeps with bodyguards.
The beat goes on.
But it is not the same. “I can’t even go to our office here. I can’t speak,” said Katie Ford, president of the Ford Models agency. She and her husband, hotelier André Balazs, arrived in Paris earlier that day from Hyannis Port, Mass., where they had expected to attend Rory Kennedy’s wedding on Saturday, July 17. “We just sat, and waited. And waited. What do you tell all the little children who were there?” Ms. Ford said. Like other guests who were not members of the immediate family, the couple left the Kennedy compound the next day.
Oscar de la Renta, who had made a dress for Ethel Kennedy, the mother of the bride, is here, too. His couture collection for Pierre Balmain was shown on July 20. “For me, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was the incarnation of modern style,” he said.
“Paradise Lost” read the front page of the July 19 issue of Women’s Wear Daily . The fashion newspaper’s coverage focused on Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: She “has been the kind of designer’s dream that comes along once in a lifetime: a striking woman of easy unstudied style who, along with her husband, commanded a room the minute she walked in,” WWD reported.
American fashion needed her glamour. And she was one of fashion’s own. Carolyn Bessette worked as a public relations executive for Calvin Klein until she and Mr. Kennedy married in 1996. Narciso Rodriguez’s career was assured when she wore a wedding dress he designed. Various international fashion companies wanted to hire her. “We talked on several occasions about her coming to work for Chanel,” said Arie Kopelman, Chanel’s president. “But she was worried about conflict of interest with John’s magazine and the other fashion advertisers he dealt with.”
Describing her tireless loyalty to helping Mr. Kennedy’s magazine succeed with its advertisers, she told friends, “I’m Georgie’s girl.” No doubt Mrs. Kennedy suffered because of her fashion connection. Her ready style incited the paparazzi. “John told me over and over it would be bad, but I didn’t believe him until we were actually married,” she told a mutual friend. She feared the paparazzi. They were waiting for her to do something wrong. Her suspicions were confirmed when she slipped and fell outside the couple’s TriBeCa residence “I couldn’t get up,” Mrs. Kennedy told another friend. “They just kept snapping.”
She was circumspect in her public appearances after that, which was reflected in how she dressed. She favored severe, dramatic fashions by Yohji Yamamoto. When she wore a shining white Versace evening dress to a charity party in Los Angeles a few months ago, friends suggested Mrs. Kennedy was signifying a more willing return to society.
I didn’t know Mrs. Kennedy well. I was cordially acquainted with Mr. Kennedy beginning years ago with some overlap of friends from New England school circles. At the height of his iconization in the late 1980’s as, in People magazine terms, one of the “world’s most beautiful people,” I happened into the small men’s bathroom at Radu, the Manhattan gym, just as Mr. Kennedy was getting out of the shower.
“Not for your column,” he smiled and grabbed a towel.
It wasn’t. In 1993, however, I interviewed him for Vogue . It was his first interview with a glossy magazine. At the suggestion of his mother, or so I understood, he contacted me through a mutual friend who suggested the piece. At the time of the interview, Mr. Kennedy had recently completed a three-year commitment as an assistant district attorney. He was taking some time for himself; he was considering various career pursuits, including starting a magazine. He sat for the Vogue interview because he wanted to promote the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award established in 1989 by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. The award honored his father and recognized exemplary acts of political courage by elected officials.
Mr. Kennedy spoke with enthusiasm and humor. Talking about his family, he was cautious. It was an intimate subject that meant the world to him. His mother, and beloved sister Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, were his family, not his American royalty. “We’re a family like any other. We look out for one another. The fact that there have been difficulties and hardships makes us closer,” he explained.
Concerned that an Irving Penn Vogue portrait might make him look too much like a movie star, or a Bruce Weber photograph might make him look too glamorous (he had already earned the nickname “the hunk”), he agreed to let Annie Leibovitz photograph him at her downtown studio. He admired her work, especially her photographs of political people. A hair stylist, makeup person and fashion stylist were employed to ready him for the camera. They weren’t necessary. Mr. Kennedy rode his bike to the shoot. He wore a plain suit, shirt and tie. The hairdresser brushed his hair once. That was it. No makeup. No change of clothes. No cell phone. No assistant. No entourage.
A great gentleman, he put everyone at ease.
I’ll miss all the things these fine young people were.