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Just a Little Sleuthing

Wendy Goodman solves the mystery behind the Kennedy gown

9 1 2010

September Magazine, Kennedy Dress

When Glenn O’Brien asked me if I would be interested in writing a story on Mrs. Kennedy’s Inaugural gown for the Bergdorf Goodman Magazine I was over the moon. This was a dream assignment that then became an opportunity to solve a fashion mystery. Once I met with Mallory Andrews, I found out that Bergdorf Goodman’s Made-To-Order Salon created her gown. I wondered why Oleg Cassini had not designed the dress as he had done the suit Mrs. Kennedy wore to the swearing in ceremony, as well as the dress she wore to the gala the night before the inauguration. Why then wouldn’t he have designed the Inaugural gown, arguably the most famous dress of any First Lady?

I began my research by diving into the books, A Thousand Days of Magic by Oleg Cassini and Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years by Hamish Bowles. There were clues but no real answers. Then it dawned on me that the one person who might hold the key was a childhood friend, the artist, Missy Cusick, who lives in Chelsea and is the daughter of Edla Cusick, who was the niece of Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion director, Ethel Frankau. The legendary Frankau had worked closely with Mrs. Kennedy who had been a Bergdorf Goodman client over the years, and it was Ethel Frankau to whom Mrs. Kennedy entrusted the creation of the dress that she wished to wear to the Inaugural balls. I called Missy and asked if by any chance she had any letters of her great aunt’s from Mrs. Kennedy during this period? When she told me that she did, and each time she read them they made her cry; I thought she was kidding.

But what I found when I went to Missy’s studio made my heart skip a beat as I looked at two hand- written envelopes with Mrs. Kennedy’s beautiful penmanship. One was addressed to Ethel Frankau from Palm Beach in 1960, the other was post marked from Washington in 1961. In these letters, with her inimitable graciousness, Mrs. Kennedy revealed why she ended up wearing the dress that Oleg Cassini had originally intended for the Inaugural balls, instead to the gala the night before, thus enabling her to wear exactly what she had always envisioned with the help of Ethel Frankau who, along with Emeric Partos, Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion designer, masterminded the cape and gown, for that magical night that made history.

- Wendy Goodman

September Magazine, Kennedy Dress

Read Wendy Goodman’s full article in our September Magazine!
To learn more about our history, visit the new Bergdorf Goodman archival installation on the Seventh Floor

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