Goodbye Jackie

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Dusk along Fifth Avenue. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023.  Cold and dry here in New York with temps running between the low 40s by day and the low 30s by night. The forecast for today is rain with some light snow possibly by afternoon. Although the way things have been going, I’d guess it’ll pass us by as the storms from the West will cut out New York. It’s been that way for a couple of years now, missing New York. 

Why, there’s a change in the weather, there’s a change in the sea
So from now on there’ll be a change in me
My walk will be be different, my talk, and my name
Nothing about me’s going to be the same

Makes sense. The song’s title was “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” This is back from the time when lyrics had a clearer and articulate message to apply to our lives.

Jackie Rogers in front of her store on Madison Avenue and 67th Street; photographed by Jill Krementz on May 12, 1975.

I’m reminded of that lyric from the once popular song famously recorded by Ethel Waters and Billie Holiday yesterday. Oddly this came to me when I heard yesterday afternoon that Jackie Rogers the fashion designer passed away peacefully early yesterday (Tuesday) morning at Lenox Hill Hospital. She was 92 and NYSD readers may remember reading that name occasionally over the years because she had a shop (in varying locations) here in New York and in Palm Beach where she sold her own designs. 

Andre Leon Talley once said in evaluating her work: “Jackie makes wonderful, minimalistic clothes. I think her satin clip dresses stand up to the best and the most acknowledged of that school of design.”

I don’t know how to express it in words but I can see what he meant. She had style; style going back to the beginning of her long life. Born in Boston in 1932 or thereabouts, she had natural beauty and and a personality to go along with it that  took her to the most stylish places of her time – to New York, Paris, Rome, Hollywood where she was a FAMOUS fashion model, sometimes actress and ultimately a designer. 

She was a “tough cookie” as my mother would have said in expressing her admiration; a chance-taker, an adventurer, an explorer and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude in her pursuits. It was a big personality, outspoken by nature, ambitious and a hard-worker to boot.

I knew her in terms of her legend because in the 1950s while in Paris, just to keep the roof over her head and the champagne and caviar coming (provided by her male and female — social — admirers … when she was interested), Coco Chanel hired her to be part of her force of mannequins. She very soon was The Star. Chanel nicknamed her “The Cowboy.” There were rumors, maybe true, maybe not, that Chanel was in love with her. Certainly love from admirers — movie stars, playboys, socialites, gangsters, and all kinds of people were easily in her thrall. And vice versa. 

It was a big, well-lived personality, a wildly lived life in her youth. Chanel, for example, learned that Jackie (born Jacqueline) had her own ideas about what worked and what didn’t fashion-wise and didn’t mind showing her boss. As the years passed, the siren to the stars matured and became that fashion designer that Talley praised to the sky. And she worked non-stop right up to the last year of her very long life. 

Jackie Rogers with her adopted dogs, Viva the Diva and Lovey.

I met her about twenty years ago when she was interested in writing a memoir. She’d seen it all and had a lot to tell and to say about it, but at the end of the day — when I met her well past her beauty prime — she loved her dogs, had a comfortable apartment on Park Avenue, and was devoted to keeping up with her dreams and ambitions.

She had several writers, at different times, working with her to accomplish her literary ambitions. This Friday we’re going to run a piece of it which was written by one of them. It was charisma that drove her into the world of fame and fortune, and a natural ability to work hard for her ambition. Underneath it all, she was that girl from Boston who was kind and sensitive and always moving forward. She wasn’t complicated but she was driven and multi-social, and sensible and practical and kept right on moving forward.

She called me a couple of weeks ago and I hadn’t got back to her yet, so I was surprised and sorry to hear that she suddenly stopped, was in the hospital and then … she left us.

Bon Voyage Jackie; one of a kind. And a beauty, a real beauty.

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