the rail thin woman with the flawless coiffure of silver steel on the arm of Bill Blass in the pages of gloss was Nan Kempner-
Of Mrs. Kempner, Kenneth Jay Lane said: "Nan had a special chic... Her style rule was not to have any rules."
Kempner in Yves Saint Laurent evening coat posing in her Living Room
No-I never met or even saw the lady-but I was impressed. In conversation with Juliana of Rare Vintage in New York- Nan Kempner's name came up. Juliana has a collection available of Rare Vintage in The New York Gallery Building, on the 5th floor.
Who better to ask-what made this woman so special to the world of fashion?
I was thinking a lot about NK and the first that really springs to mind when I think of Nan Kempner, the style icon, is her unabashed enthusiasm for fashion. She adored clothes and clothes adored her.
I know a lot was made at the exhibit of Nan's wardrobe at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art about the sheer quantity of clothing she amassed (362 sweaters as one example) and, of course, she was a woman of great means. But what was remarkable was the archive of fashion she kept in her closet. She may have given a few things here and there to the Met but I think she liked having her clothes around her. I like to imagine how much she must have enjoyed spending time in her closet, choosing what to wear that day for a lunch in New York, or on a visit to Punta Cana at the Oscar de la Rentas or a trip to Paris for a little something from the next haute couture collection of Yves Saint Laurent. Many memories must have been stored behind those curtains, waiting on shelves and hanging on rails to either be worn again or simply looked at again for a visit to a fond memory from the past.
a YSL piece from the 2007 Costume Insitute's show of her collection, Nan Kempner: American Chic
I was lucky enough to have purchased a few things for RARE vintage after Nan Kempner passed away. I bought a beautiful, tiny strapless silk chiffon haute couture gown by YSL, a pair of Ungaro suede pants with lightening bolts running down the side of each leg, a Givenchy haute couture gown from 1967. I wore the Givenchy to one of Met Galas and when Bill Cunningham snapped my photo, I told him the dress had belonged to Nan Kempner and he said that Nan would have been happy that her dress was at the Met Gala. Later, a young girl came into RARE and bought the Givenchy and wore it as her wedding dress. It was a happy collection from a spirited and stylish collector, a great supporter of haute couture and I am glad that people still delight in her enthusiasm. -JC
Yves Saint Laurent said- she "symbolized all that is modern about American women."
a Classic in jeans and in her Michael Taylor Living Room
her jeans of choice were Levi 501's
Her take on decorating was Pure Elegance.
No nonsense, No tricks-
No trends-No Kidding.
Michael Taylor decorated her Living Room.
I mean-LOOK at this Michael Taylor-Nan Kempner room. Kempner never redid it-why should she?
and by the way-they did the room up in 1956.
"Get it right-and Leave it alone"- NK
I adore this credo. I believe it. Having been a decorator for going on 30 years (egad) it may not be the most profitable philosophy.
Of course a Room evolves. Things must be replaced, must be refined-but the bones-as with the body-stay. Kempner did have to replace rugs and she did add paintings but the original intent is exactly the same. I try to instill this idea with my clients.
Consider pieces that you love and will always love.
Consider pieces that can be moved out when a more refined piece is on your radar.
What prompted the Nan Kempner discussion?
Her clothes? Well yes of course there's that-but more to the point it was her Closet &
Yes-her clothes were there-but still-It was how that closet was styled that caught my attention the first time I saw it published.
Once her son's bedroom-Kempner and the late Chessy Rayner did up the room to house some of Mrs. Kempner's wardrobe.
It was such a beautiful room- full of light, full of a sort of sun drenched floral chintz, poppies maybe- but soft-very soft, a faded to perfection color= she must have anticipated would be reached in time. We know she would never have changed IT. No hard lines,regimented cabinetry- gimmicky- closety things that one thinks will keep things in order-no doubt they do help-but are they pretty? Is it really a pretty room?
Nan Kempner and Chessy Rayner didn't have to ask each other that one.
Nan Kempner's confidence in clothes is evidenced in her decoration of her Closet.
Swathed in fabric gathered and hanging from the ceiling-a Noguchi Lamp & Russian chest, hardwood floors and an Aubusson carpet.
A Chinoiserie desk is draped in necklaces.
Blouses went into a damask lined armoire-
A check covers a French chair, the curtained Closet with Italian stringing.
A Chaise covered in an indienne print.
I truly think this sort of decorating should return- I don't think we can have too much of it.
The likes of a Lady such as Nan Kempner are gone. As a young woman growing up in San Francisco, she acquired the social graces & attributes coveted by past generations that are rare today.
From San Francisco-she married and moved to New York in 1957-and lived on Park Avenue in the same duplex all her life.
She was married over 50 years, and died in 2005.
RARE VINTAGE here
RARE VINTAGE blog here
RARE VINTAGE AT 1st dibs here
the images above were collected from articles in Harper's Bazaar, and Elle Decor. the closet photographs are by Fernando Bengoechea, the articles and the information for my piece was culled from the writings of William Middleton and David Colman.