John, Jr., playfully tugs at one of the three strands of Jackie’s famous simulated pearl necklace

One Special Summer with Jackie O

Jacqueline Kennedy, when he was First Lady, at the Taj Mahal
Jacqueline Kennedy poses in front of the Taj Mahal. Photo courtesy JFK Library.

Hegel’s caveat “history teaches us nothing” may be relevant in cultural and philosophical realities but in the design world the statement is far from succinct. No one knew this more resolutely than Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, or as we have come to affectionately call her Jackie O.

At her wedding, Jacqueline Kennedy prepares to toss her bouquet
Jackie readies to toss her bouquet at her wedding JFK; photograph by Toni Frissell courtesy of WikiMedia.

One Special Summer with Jackie O

She was a style-setter in the truest sense of the word but her choices were grounded in her knowledge of history and her worldliness—classic tastes honed by parents who understood the past had a great deal to teach her and her sister, who would become the prominent socialite Lee Radziwill. They were educated at excellent schools and sent abroad on a three-month mini grand tour of Europe that included stops in Spain, London, Paris, Venice, Rome and Florence when Lee was 18 and Jackie was 22.

One Special Summer with Jackie O
The cover of “One Special Summer,” penned by Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier to commemorate their three-month tour of Europe.

Their trip lives on because the sisters created a cheekily illustrated journal titled One Special Summer, which they presented to their parents as a thank you upon their return. Jackie rendered the delightful drawings and wrote the poetry while Lee penned the narratives about their capers as they traveled around in a small car they bought in London solely for the trip.

Lee Bouvier sings in a parlor in Venice
Jackie created this hilarious illustration to tease Lee about being pushed into singing in a parlor in Venice. Published in “One Special Summer,” it is proof of Jackie’s wit.

Rizzoli published the journal as a slim, large format book in 1974, and I highly recommend it if you’d like to experience the playful personalities of these charming young women, who would both go on to become influencers in so many ways. Their fun-loving bond and the capricious nature they unleashed on a handful of cities in Europe is a wonderful respite that takes about half an hour to enjoy if you have the time to relish the fact you are seeing such a different side of these women than we know of them today.

A photograph of Jackie and Lee Bouvier returning from Europe
“It’s All Over Now” is written beneath this photograph of the two sisters—the last page of their journal “One Special Summer.”

This image of the two sisters as they returned to America ends the book, the text below it reading “It’s All Over Now” with the date September 15th, 1951, noted below it. It was exactly 64 years ago today when they ended their escapade, and I am grateful to have the memento because it is a remarkable artifact of a more innocent time and a testament to good manners that sometimes seems all but gone.

Jackie O's Fifth Avenue apartment
The dining and living room of Jackie’s Fifth Avenue apartment illustrates her love of books and her commitment to classicism.

The Stylish Life of Jackie O

When Sotheby’s auctioned off her estate nearly 45 years later in April 1996, the two-inch-thick catalog, titled The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, notes that a number of copies of One Special Summer, being offered for sale, had been on her shelves when she died. The bound Sotheby’s inventory is more than an archive of domestic goods; it’s a narrative honoring a worldly and beautiful woman.

One of the portrait studies of Jacqueline Kennedy as First Lady
Figure 1 of the “Study for the White House Portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy” by Aaron Shikler is dated 1969 and copyrighted by the White House Historical Association.

In it are essays by her children and by Nancy Tuckerman, who attended Chapin School with Jackie when they were precocious young girls. Tuckerman remained a close confidant of hers for many years, noting the future First Lady’s penchant for practical jokes that saw her routinely sent to the headmistress’s office. She also mentioned just how smart she was: “Teachers loved Jackie for her intelligence and her inquisitive mind. Because of her eagerness to learn and her retentive memory, and to keep her mind occupied, they often gave her double homework assignments. Once when our homework included memorizing a number of Longfellow verses, Jackie came to class having memorized the entire poem.”

John, Jr., playfully tugs at one of the three strands of Jackie’s famous simulated pearl necklace
John, Jr., playfully tugs at one of the three strands of Jackie’s famous simulated pearl necklace, which was also auctioned off by Sotheby’s. Photo courtesy the JFK Library.

Her children wrote, “In deciding what to do with our mother’s possessions, we were guided first and foremost by her deep knowledge of and love of history.”

The cover of the book, "In the Russian Style," which Jackie Onassis edited.
The cover of the book, “In the Russian Style,” which Jackie edited.

Jackie’s fascination with the past even showed in the design books she edited, one of her most respected titled In the Russian Style, a backward glance at the great rulers of the country through their fashions, the things they treasured, and their design legacies. It was published in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it includes pageantry ensembles, interiors of cloyingly ornate royal palaces and art owned by the monarchs reaching as far back as Peter I and ending with the reign of Alexander III. A bit disappointingly, most of the images are in black and white, but the fascinating survey of the wealth and customs of the rulers of a land that remains enigmatic to this day is far from a letdown.

Jackie O's Inaugural Day Pillbox Hat
Jackie O’s Inaugural Day Pillbox Hat set the tone for the fashion-forward First Lady.

It was Jackie’s wardrobe that gave us the first indication she would be a tour-de-force for bringing classicism to America—her ensembles for the inaugural festivities setting the tone for a fascination we would develop for our young First Lady’s taste in clothes early on (who can forget that oversized pillbox hat?) . But it would be her devotion to timeless interior elements that would turn out to be the most enduring proof.

Jackie O Champion of History

Her determination to champion traditional design initially revealed itself in her restoration of portions of the White House, which she proudly debuted during her renowned televised tour that aired on CBS in the spring of 1962 (above). While over 46-million viewers watched, she spoke demurely about what had been achieved, afterwards expressing happiness that things the press had identified about her as liabilities (that she spoke French, that her hair was not au courant, that she didn’t adore campaigning, and that she didn’t bake bread “with flour up my arms”) were suddenly seen as a positive.

Jackie Kennedy restored the Red Room of the White House
The Red Room of the White House, one of the spaces to feel the sensitive restoration carried out by Jackie and her committee of experts.

The Red Room and State Dining Room (above and below) are examples of the excellence she achieved with the help of a handful of talented advisors that included Washington DC insiders and Winterthur’s Henry Francis du Pont.

The State Dining Room of the White House in 1962
The State Dining Room is another restored room thanks to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Later in life, it would be her advocacy in saving Grand Central Terminal (GCT) that added a gem to her preservationist legacy. Both efforts show her regard for historic design and her passion for our country’s architectural treasures.

The Jackie Kennedy Onassis Foyer at Grand Central Terminal
The Jackie Kennedy Onassis Foyer at Grand Central Terminal, a tribute to her determination to preserve and restore the architectural gem. Image © Saxon Henry.

Last year, the main entrance to GCT was dedicated as the “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Foyer” in honor of her work to help the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission save and restore the transit hub. I took the time to stand in the graceful entryway not long ago and it is such a fitting a tribute to her, down to the video looping continuously on the west wall with snapshots of her life and her efforts (not that NYC commuters rushing through the arched foyer paid any notice!).

The Tiffany Clock on the facade of Grand Central Terminal
The beautiful clock, the largest Tiffany glass clock in the world at 13 feet in diameter, is a centerpiece in the sculptural detailing above the main entrance to Grand Central Terminal featuring Minerva, Hercules and Mercury.

This devotion to tradition was not merely a public persona. As the Sotheby’s catalog illustrates, she lived surrounded by classic style. Flipping through it is like being granted entrée to the life of a well-traveled sophisticate. There is Tiffany silver and Ormolu accessories, Italian cast bronze sculpture, gilded and ebonized furniture. Chinoiserie proliferated in her art and accessories. Antiques were plentiful, including Rococo, Biedermeier and Neoclassical treasures. Her art collection included French School watercolor portraiture; Neapolitan School scenic watercolors; Dutch oil paintings; French School gouaches of architecture studies, which hung in the foyer of her Fifth Avenue apartment; and marble sculptures, many of them depicting mythological figures, dating from the 4th-century BC to the 3rd-century AD.

Chinoiserie owned by Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Jackie’s Chinoiserie was auctioned off during the Sotheby’s sale.

Francophilia figured strongly with decorative items from a number of eras, including Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis-Philippe, Regency and the Empire; and she owned numerous books about Versailles and the French decorative arts. These facts are no surprise considering French was one of her majors. She was fond of pencil on paper by British artists and her books encompassed nearly all the cultures of the globe. Russia, Italy, France, and India figured strongly on her bookshelves, titles like A History of Indian Dress likely inspired by her trip to the country as First Lady.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy rides an elephant during a trip to India
Jackie Kennedy rides an elephant during her visit to India. One of her oft-repeated quotes about the experience is, “A camel makes an elephant feel like a jet plane.”

How her apartment was furnished and the many books she displayed there made it evident that she gravitated toward what was meaningful to her. Nan Talese said as much in her introduction to New York Jackie: Pictures from Her Life in the City. “She loved books all her life and so to be involved with them was also to be absorbed in something meaningful.” This led her to jobs as an editor at several major publishing houses after her divorce from Aristotle Onassis. As a smaller round of items from her estate were being auctioned off a number of years after the major Sotheby’s sale, New York magazine quoted Tuckerman as having said, “I’d like to see how the books from her library would do; that’s what she cared about, not some plate.”

I was eager to learn what serious literature she had on her bookshelves to see if they shed light on her as a reader. Standouts included poetry by Edith Sitwell and Robert Lowell, a copy of Courtiers of Henry VIII signed by the author David Matthew, an autographed copy of Truman Capote’s selected writings, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, three volumes of Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte by Richard Bentley, Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, The Hemingway Reader, and the plays of Shakespeare from her school days. Her books also attested to an avid interest in historic design and garden literature, perhaps a harbinger of her involvement in restoring the White House.

The Blue Room at the White House after Jacqueline Kennedy's restoration
The Blue Room at the White House is another of the interiors brought to classic splendor at Jackie’s bidding.

During an interview with Hugh Sidey of Life magazine on September 1, 1961, she told him, “All these people come to see the White House and they see practically nothing that dates back before 1948. Every boy who comes here should see things that develop his sense of history. For the girls, the house should look beautiful and lived-in. They should see what a fire in the fireplace and pretty flowers can do for a house; the White House rooms should give them a sense of all that. Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to ‘redecorate’ it—a word I hate. It must be restored—and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship.”

Historic Designs Befitting a Style Setter Like Jackie O

Currey and Company's Jolie Chandelier
The Jolie chandelier in the Lillian August Collection is a wrought iron and crystal composition finished in a French gold leaf.

You may be wondering what inspired me to delve into her take on history as thoroughly as I have. I blame it on a visit to Currey & Company’s Atlanta headquarters last month, which makes the title of this post (One Special Summer) doubly apropos! I was given a sneak peek at their fall releases and as Cecil Adams uncovered one gorgeous furnishing after another, I noticed, once again, how historic design underpins all of their offerings. Even their contemporary pieces have provenance in some form or fashion.

Currey and Company's Havana Grande Chandelier
The Havana Grande chandelier was being photographed during my visit to Currey and Company. The wrought iron stunner in contemporary gold leaf pays homage to the plant world and old Havana.

I thought I’d give you a taste of the classicism represented within the new releases, and to stay true to the narrative, I’ve chosen pieces that I believe would resonate with a polished person on par with Jackie O furnishing a Fifth Avenue apartment today.

Currey and Company's Bellevue Accent Table
The Bellevue accent table is made of metal and mirror, the finish silver leaf and the mirror antiqued.

To accompany the visual beauty, I asked Brownlee Currey, the company’s President; and Bob Ulrich, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, to share their thoughts about the creative vibrancy for which Currey & Company is applauded.

Currey and Company's Cinderella Chandelier
The Cinderella chandelier, pretty as the fairy tale princess in her ball gown, is made of crystal and wrought iron finished in Nero Oro Antico.

Brownlee addressed the historical aspects of their point of view, telling me, “The company is deeply rooted in historical furnishings. In fact, our very first products were accurate reproductions of classic garden benches from the Winterthur estate. One might say that our very origins were looking at older things.

Currey and Company's Stag Table Lamp
The Stag table lamp is made of brass and given a tarnished silver finish, shown here with an off white shantung shade.

“My father [Robert Currey] is prone to say, ‘there is no new geometry,’ and while he is correct, I don’t quite think this gets the whole point across. Personally, I believe what he is saying is that form, scale and proportion never really change, though decorative styles certainly do. Therefore, history is our best guide to the future and an invaluable reference in our design work.

Currey and Company's Belgravia Chandelier
The Belgravia chandelier, with 18 lights, is wrought iron and mirror, the finish on the metal Old Iron and the mirror given a light antique finish.

“Having spent the last several days looking at old things and old books of older things still, I am more convinced than ever that history should be our guide when working on new things. Someone else has been here before us and has been confronted with these same choices, after all.”

Currey and Company's Tolbert Demi Lune Dumbwaiter
The Tolbert Demi Lune dumbwaiter is finished in a gray and natural whitewash for a classically sophisticated feel.

Since Bob’s point of view has been honed interacting with the company’s loyal buyers, I asked him to tell me how he thinks the design team continues to create notable furnishings that set the bar so high.

Currey and Company's Malverne Chandelier
The Malverne chandelier is made of wrought iron and mirror, the metal finished in Pyrite bronze and the mirror treated to a black finish.

“Our effort to remain ‘distinctive’ is driven by the collective talents of our product development team,” he told me. “The depth of our collection can be directly attributed to the diversity of their perspective, the willingness/desire to try new concepts and a passion for creating beautiful things.”

Currey and Company's Lavinia Wall Sconce
The Lavinia wall sconce is made of wrought iron and glass, the metal finished in a Grecian silver leaf and the glass treated to an Antique Mercury finish.

Distinctive is certainly a word that resonates for me when I think of Currey & Company’s products and when I remember Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She knew the value of celebrating what had been—down to her designation of her time in the White House, a historical reference we use to this day. It was during an interview for Life magazine on November 29, 1963—a week after her husband had been assassinated—when she told the journalist Theodore H. White that JFK’s presidency was “one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” Looking back from this distance, it feels “one brief shining moment” is an apt description of her graceful life. She’s simply one of those dynamic women I wish could have lived on forever, providing a sophisticated beacon for those of us who follow.

Jackie Kennedy at Fateh Prakash Palace
A vibrant Jackie Kennedy is photographed at Fateh Prakash Palace in India during her visit to the country as First Lady. Photograph courtesy the JFK Library.

In her last will and testament, Jackie bequeathed to Rachel (Bunny) Mellon two Indian miniatures—Lovers Watching Rain Clouds and Gardens of the Palace of Rajh—in appreciation of her designing the Rose Garden at the White House. So many years later and after such a multifaceted life that could have made such an early collaboration irrelevant to many people, she honored a contribution to our cultural milieu with soulful recognition—a move that illustrates how she was style personified to her very last earthly acts.

The Modern Salonnière and One Special Summer with Jackie O © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist whose books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.

4 Replies to “One Special Summer with Jackie O”

  1. You’re most welcome, Bethanne; love these new classic introductions for fall 2015. Can’t wait to see them in person in the amazing Currey & Company showrooms settings in the coming months! Safe travels to NYC!

  2. Thank you so much for the lovely article. Such a nice inclusion for Currey and Company. And what else can you say about Jackie O!

  3. I’m so happy you stopped in to read and comment, Robert; and since I went on quite effusively about Jackie, I don’t believe I left much unsaid. I have to say having Currey and Company as my muse is turning out to be more fun than one girl should have talking about furniture and lighting (but I’ll take it any day)! I hope you have a wonderful week.

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