The pink bouclé suit Jackie Kennedy wore in Dallas on November 22, 1963 has become a part of history–it’s what she was wearing the day her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. According to biographer William Manchester’s account of the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy refused to take the suit off after it was stained with her slain husband’s blood, saying “Let them see what they’ve done.” The suit, according to an LA Times article, is now “perfectly preserved in a vault in Maryland…banned from public display for 100 years.”
So, leave it to Karl Lagerfeld to bring a new (to us, at least) piece of (fashion) information to light about that fateful day. It’s been generally assumed that Jackie Kennedy was wearing a Chanel suit at the motorcade. Only Lagerfeld says it was a fake, a “line-by-line copy by [Oleg] Cassini.”
Tim Blanks interviewed Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld about their Little Black Jacket book project for the latest issue of Style.com/Print. When Blanks asked Carine when she saw her first Chanel jacket, she responded “The first Chanel jacket that I saw–that I knew was Chanel–was on TV. It was on Mrs. Kennedy–the pink one.”
Nope! You were fooled along with everyone else Carine. “In 1963,” Lagerfeld replied. “It was a fake, a line-by-line copy by Cassini. She did have real Chanels, [but] her sister ordered them. We have all the proof.”
So we did a little more digging and it turns out whether or not Jackie’s suit was actually Chanel has been up for debate for a while amongst fashion historians. The dress has it’s own wikipedia page, which we’re not putting all our trust in, but an interesting little section at the end of the entry points out that the other theory about the dress is that it came from the Chez Ninon dress shop in New York (in this Bill Cunningham piece in the Times he confirms that Jackie was a client) where it was created using the “line-for-line” system (Karl’s words almost exactly).
According to Justine Picardie’s authorized biography of Coco Chanel, Chanel, Her Life, Jackie Kennedy was a Chanel client starting in the 1950s. But after she was slammed in the press for a reported $30,000 Paris spending spree during her husband’s Presidential campaign, Mrs. Kennedy couldn’t afford to buy Chanel from Chanel and risk more bad press, especially not as First Lady. Too foreign, too spendy. (After the story broke, first in WWD and then picked up by the AP, that the future first lady went on a wild spending spree, Pat Nixon told the Times, “I buy my clothes off the rack and I look for bargains like all other American women.”) So, to avoid another gaffe, Picardie says that Mrs. Kennedy “was able to acquire Chanel outfits sewn for her in New York by a dressmaking establishment called Chez Ninon. The garments were not fake or pirated, but made to order using materials supplied by Chanel in Paris.”
“Thus it was,” Picardie concludes, “that she came to be wearing a vivid pink Chanel suit (complete with fabric, trim and buttons from 31 Rue Cambon, but fitted at Chez Ninon) on 22nd November 1963, accompanying her husband to Dallas.”
An article in the LA Times about the missing pink pill box from the suit, confirms that Mrs. Kennedy “took along two suits, one of them the pink Chanel knockoff created by a New York dress shop so she could indulge her French tastes and still buy American.”
Case closed? While Lagerfeld was right, that it was a line-for-line copy, it seems Oleg Cassini, Mrs. Kennedy’s favored designer, had nothing to do it. And if the suit was made with Chanel fabrics, is it really a knock off? Regardless, thank you Mr. Lagerfeld, for prompting us to explore this fascinating little bit of history.