Things to Learn from Nan Kempner

by jennine on June 14, 2007

Nan liked to be fancy.

Today I attended the press preview for the Nan Kempner American Chic exhibition at the de Young. I learned a lot today mostly about style, and persona. This exhibition follows the Vivienne Westwood, which really appealed to the general public because Vivienne has a great deal of showmanship in her work, she did after all, create the punk aesthetic. But Nan Kempner was of an elite class that many of us have a difficult time relating to. So at first glance, everything looks beautiful, but conservative. Classic. Chic. Elegant. Nan was more than just a clothes horse with good taste, she was a great person who adored beauty.

After all Nan did like to be fancy. Here are some of the things I learned about her, things that I could apply in my own crazy life..

  1. She would look you right in the eye and say “It’s so good to see you.” She didn’t look around to see who else was there, and whether or not she meant it, you believed.
  2. Get a good trench coat, a good black trouser, a long black skirt, a short black skirt and lots of tops.
  3. Don’t be afraid to stand out. Nan was tall, and wore heels.
  4. Always dress appropriately, and the best you can with what you can afford.
  5. Your clothing has to fit into the aesthetic of your life.
  6. Women of style aren’t afraid of clothes one has to play with.
  7. Clothing is about attitude.

“If she was great in fashion it was because she was so American. She loved the history of fashion, which was decidedly more European, but she could Americanize it, put what I would call a more American touch. The tomboy in her would allow her to look casually elegant all the time. She looked like she was a good friend of your older sister or somebody. Comfortable, relaxed, and with a twinkle that invited you to get closer.” —CHRIS MEIGHER, FRIEND

Harold Koda said “clothing is the surrogate for the person” an, collected her clothing like art. She didn’t buy multiples of the same thing. Each item is different, she had impeccable taste…. and however beautiful the clothing was, I was most fascinated by the stories and attitude of Nan herself. Earlier this week, I posted about my style lovies, visually articulating your soul through attire is a subject that fascinates me. That whatever you wear, it’s your attitude, you, who makes the outfit.

Special thanks to Mary Jo Bowling for inviting me to the press preview, and being so wonderful.

Natalie from Coquette for the images of the exhibition, she did a great job of documenting the exhibition on her blog and flickr page.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dianabobar June 15, 2007 at 3:03 am

that black&yellow coat is just like a symbolist painting! love it!


2 Ashe June 15, 2007 at 11:49 am

Thank you for sharing! The photos, the fashion affirmations, it’s all wonderful.q


3 Kezzer June 15, 2007 at 3:45 pm

Trench coats! Yes!


4 Candid Cool June 15, 2007 at 4:45 pm

ou! you included my favorite photo of the kimono & kaftan dresses!


5 Jennine June 15, 2007 at 5:08 pm

thanks so much! natalie got all the great photos of the exhibition… she did such a great job of documenting it. the kimonos were atypical of her wardrobe, but they were my favorite part too!
; )


6 The Stiletto Effect June 16, 2007 at 12:22 pm

great post


7 Model Citzen June 17, 2007 at 10:18 pm

thanks for all the great photos, your coverage is fabulous.


8 Jennine June 18, 2007 at 2:21 pm

thank you so much! it’s so much fun to write… and to have a muse… even better. i’m really glad you guys enjoyed this. thanks for letting me know.
; )


9 Jennine June 18, 2007 at 2:45 pm

oh, natalie from coquette sent me this link, nan donated her clothes to a thrift shop, and here’s what was at the sale:


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