GoTo Shop: A taste of Camelot, forever

By SHIHOKO GOTO, UPI Senior Business Correspondent  |  Sept. 4, 2002 at 5:47 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- It's still more of a blessing than a curse to be a Kennedy, especially if you're running for public office.

As much as Mark Shriver and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- the nephew and niece of John F. Kennedy -- try to distance themselves from the legacy of Camelot as they seek office in Maryland, it is precisely the cachet of the family name that gives them a leading edge over their opponents.

It's all too common knowledge now that family patriarch Joseph Kennedy made his fortune as a bootlegger while son John was an incurable womanizer.

But despite the Kennedys' checkered past -- and present -- public interest in one of the most glamorous of America's First Couples remains as strong as or greater than ever.

Even those who are indifferent to politics or hostile towards the Kennedy administration's policies find it difficult to argue that JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy made a striking couple, which the twosome used to their advantage on the campaign trail and in the White House.

The contemporary Kennedys are also eager to cash in on Jack and Jackie.

In late April, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., JFK's youngest brother, hosted a party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which had launched a special exhibit of Jackie's clothes during the White House years earlier in the month. In attendance were the members of the huge Kennedy clan, who regularly appear in the mainstream and tabloid press, and who were only too happy to be associated with the glamorous pair.

But even those who have no family ties to these Boston Brahmins don't seem to be able to get enough of JFK and Jackie-O.

"This has been one of our most popular exhibits," said Jan Rothschild, the Corcoran's chief communications officer, adding that at least 250,000 people will have seen the display of over 70 of Jackie's dresses by the time the exhibit ends on Sept. 30.

Unlike the government-operated Smithsonian Institutions, which offer free admission, the Corcoran's special exhibit costs $10 a person. But that hasn't stopped the admirers from coming.

"Jackie started a trend in clothing and style, which has become an issue for all first ladies since," Rothschild said.

Nancy Reagan had some striking red ballgowns that gave insight into her personality. Laura Bush has made it a point to wear the clothing of Texas-based designers. And Hillary Clinton, who now favors demure black pantsuits as a junior New York senator, was well aware that her choices could put some U.S. designers on the map, so she actively sought to wear U.S.-made couture clothes.

But no presidential wife has been able to compete with Jackie, who relished the fact that her clothes could define her image, and commissioned one-time Hollywood designer Oleg Cassini to design the bulk of her wardrobe during her three years at the White House.

It was he who insisted that Jackie try the pillbox hats, A-line dresses and off-the-shoulder gowns that still intrigue women 40 years on.

"Women from age 25 to 75 are more preponderant," Rothschild said, noting that Mrs. Kennedy's allure extended even to those who were born long after the Camelot years.

And when they leave the exhibit, located a block away from the White House, they are only too eager to stop by at the gift shop to recreate Jackie's classic tastes for themselves.

"Pearls, sunglasses, accessories, they just fly out the door," Rothschild said. In fact, the Corcoran has sold "thousands" of the oversized sunglasses ($40) that Jackie liked to pair with her three-strand pearl necklace ($500 upwards) to dress up her A-line dresses, all available at the museum's gift shop.

Jackie tried hard never to be photographed in the same dress twice -- but then, she had a father-in-law who footed all her clothing bills from the House of Cassini without questions.

Meanwhile, the Washington tourist board has encouraged area restaurants, hotels and shops to offer "Jackie specials." For instance, the restaurant at Morrison-Clark Inn offers "Jackie Kennedy's Washington" dinners, with menus reflecting some of the official state dinners that Mrs. Kennedy had a hand in planning, so that visitors can continue to soak in the ambiance of Camelot.

In New York, where the exhibit opened last year at the Museum of Modern Art, department stores such as Henri Bendel have seen a spike in demand for semi-long gloves as well as the ubiquitous sunglasses, another Jackie trademark accessory.

But while Jackie's style may be timeless, will her enduring popularity garner votes for the younger generation of Kennedys?

"I don't think so," the Corcoran's Rothschild said.

The John F. Kennedy Library's spokeswoman agreed.

"We've seen an increase in the number of visitors here since Sept. 11. ... There's been more sensitive tourism," the Boston library's official said.

But she pointed out that a jump in public interest in the clan didn't indicate more support for any Kennedy family member who is seeking office but was rather reflective of greater awareness of government since the terrorist attacks.

In other words, don't assume that the chic woman in pearls with the Jackie-O glasses will be voting Democrat.

(GoTo Shop is a biweekly musing on where or where not to spend one's hard-earned paycheck. If there is, indeed, an opposite and equal reaction for every action, then shopping is no exception. The fine art of shopping can be a political statement, a social manifestation, an economic triumph, or simply a dud decision on the part of the consumer.)

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories