NEW YORK — There will be plenty of surprises in store for visitors to the upcoming Jacqueline Kennedy costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not the least of which is that the legendary First Lady’s wardrobe was filled with color.
Since many of the iconic images of Kennedy from her White House years were filmed or photographed in black and white, the actual colors of her outfits have often been forgotten over the decades. That’s the case with the two-piece day dress she wore during the 1962 CBS broadcast of “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” which appeared to be a muddied gray. As a preview to the exhibit that opens at the Met on May 1, and to celebrate the 39th anniversary of the TV special, on Wednesday, the museum showed Kennedy’s ensemble from the celebrated tour, which turns out to be a Valentine’s Day shade of red.
“One of the things that surprised me while researching this project was the dizzying spectrum of colors in her wardrobe,” said Hamish Bowles, European editor at large of Vogue and guest curator of the exhibit. “Whether it was in an ambassadorial role in India or a state dinner, she considered her clothing very carefully so that she would stand out in a crowd,” he added. “Her outfits were conceived much like costume design. They were specific to the event and sometimes color-coordinated to her travels around the country.”
Her choice for the CBS special was an authorized line-for-line copy of a Christian Dior couture gown designed by Marc Bohan. The dress was made by Chez Ninon, a Park Avenue dress house that paid a fee called a “caution” to reproduce couture designs in the same fabrics and with the same details as the originals, a common Seventh Avenue practice in the Sixties.
This dress also reflects another point of the exhibit, demonstrating the way that Kennedy was able to express her taste for French design while maintaining the allegiance to American manufacturers essential to her role as First Lady.
Bowles also previewed selections from the 80 looks that will be featured in the exhibit, culled from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. They include the ivory silk satin gown by Oleg Cassini she wore to the inaugural gala in 1961, Hubert de Givenchy’s ivory silk evening dress which she wore to a 1961 party at Versailles hosted by Charles de Gaulle and Cassini’s celadon silk jersey gown she wore to a 1962 White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize laureates.
“The thing that really struck me was the extent of her involvement in so many aspects of her role as First Lady,” Bowles said. “Her control over her wardrobe was pretty absolute in a way, and her attention to detail was unbelievable.”
The exhibit will be unveiled on April 23 at its Costume Institute Benefit, cochaired by Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue; Lindsay Owen-Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of L’Oreal, and his wife, Cristina; Oscar and Annette de la Renta, and Carolina Herrera.

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