Friday, November 22, 2013

Mrs. Kennedy, Oleg Cassini, Francois Zecca and The Pink Suit

In November 1963, President John F. Kennedy and the First Lady of the United States were getting ready to leave for Dallas.  President Kennedy asked his wife to wear the pink suit because it was one of his favorites and he thought Jackie looked "smashing" in it.

Years ago, my husband's grandparents had a cocktail party, where I met the painter, Bill Walton, who had chaired the White House Committee on Fine Arts during the Kennedy Presidency.  Walton was very close to the Kennedys and I will never forget when Bill told me, President Kennedy could recognize exactly what designer a woman was wearing the moment she walked into a room.  Such a wonderful quality in a man, much less a President, don't you think?!

Bill Walton at JFK's 46th birthday party.  Photo from In the Kennedy Style

President Kennedy's father, Joe Kennedy, may have found Jackie's wardrobe bills alarming but Kennedy seemed to enjoy his wife sartorial fame and even quipped when they went to Paris, "I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself... I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it."

The pink suit Jackie wore in Dallas on November 22nd 1963, stained with blood, is packed away in an archival box in The National Archives.  Caroline Kennedy recently made a gift of the suit in 2003 with the provision the suit not be seen by the public for 100 years.  The pink suit, which was so emblematic of a young handsome president and his beautiful, glamorous wife, of a time of hope and optimism, sits unseen but well remembered.

My husband has an online magazine, Axis of Oversteer, devoted to car racing and wasn't I surprised when he said one of his racing buddies, Robert Zecca of Driving Impressions, father made the pink suit Jackie Kennedy wore in Dallas in 1963.  Robert Zecca shared this remembrance today, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death, of how that pink suit reminds him not just of Jackie but of his father, Francois Zecca, too.  Francois Zecca made the pink suit Jackie wore that day in November fifty years ago.  I don't think this story has ever been publicly told...

Francois Zecca was born in Italy.  During the war he was imprisoned by the the Nazis in Italy, Zecca escaped in the middle of the night and made his way to Paris to see his mother before she died.  His father was a tailor in Paris and when Paris was occupied, Nazi officer's would come to their apartment to be fitted for a suit.  Francois Zecca had just escaped and was hiding in a closet during one of those visits.  The Zecca family moved to New York and the young Francois Zecca was hired by Oleg Cassini where he was the head designer for 17 years.  Oleg Cassini was chosen as the designer for the First Ladies wardrobe and Cassini assigned Zecca his very famous client.  

"Mrs. Kennedy had such marvelous taste... that all of the women across the country, copied her... that little pillbox... the sleeveless shift.  It was epidemic, that wardrobe."
Betty Ford

Robert Zecca: "Oleg hired my father to personally take care of her.  The outfit you see in this photo and many others were made by my father.  He loved Mrs. Kennedy and told me how nice she was and that she was the most elegant woman in the world.

Robert's brother, Mark, remembers November 22nd 1962...

"I remember being sent home from school that day and Dad was crying. That was the last collection he designed made for Jackie.   I remember him saying he had a bad feeling about the Dallas trip."

"Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained with blood.  Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman, exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood."
Lady Bird Johnson

Robert remember's his father saying how nice Mrs. Kennedy was and they had gone together to Lake Como to choose silks for an upcoming collection.

Francois Zecca did not go to the White House, instead Mrs. Kennedy would come to New York and stay in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria where he would personally fit her.  He said that Mrs. Kennedy was a smoker and the two of them would converse in French.

Here is a photo given to Francois Zecca from President Kennedy.  It is inscribed:
'Dear Francois, With best wishes, President Kennedy'

Photo courtesy of Robert Zecca

 The handsome Francois Zecca and his wife:

Photo courtesy of Robert Zecca

I am very grateful and indebted to Robert Zecca for taking the time to share memories of his father with me and our RARE vintage blog readers.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to clarify the history of the pink suit that by saying the suit was a fake Chanel copy made in New York City for Jackie. Cassini was her official designer. My father was his head designer assigned to oversee the collections made for her during the Kennedy Presidency. Jackie wanted this one suit made by Coco Chanel but with keeping with it had to be made in America, under her agreement with Cassini he had it made secretly in NYC.It was true to Cocos parameters. It was an embarrassment of sorts as told by my father because Cassini wanted her seen only in his designs bout he gave what she wanted. My father made the last collection of Cassini designs that traveled West to Dallas along with the fake Chanel Pink Suit. My brother Robert and I are the last to tell this oral fashion history as was told by our father. I just want to set the historical record straight before we depart as well one day.



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