Nan Kempner


Nan Kempner was a New York socialite famous for her vast collection of couture clothing and her delightful outspokenness, such as her  pronouncement to Vanity Fair, “I loathe fat people!”

I remember reading about her in W, which chronicled her luncheons and charity events and famous friends. Spy magazine used to publish unflattering pictures of her, with hilariously insulting captions.   She is said to be the inspiration for Tom Wolf’s descriptive term, “social x-ray.”   As I google her now, I see that she was a living rebuttal to the adage: “You can’t be too rich or too thin.”

The Metropolitan Museum is currently hosting an exhibit of Nan Kempner’s clothing collection, celebrating her “cool elegance” and “iconic style.” There’s that word “iconic” again!   Mrs. Kempner certainly knew how to spend money. She had 360 sweaters and 200 bikinis, along with couture gowns by all the usual designers of her era.   She had a 14 room apartment where she could store her clothes, and she was renowned for her ability to make a plain white shirt look chic.

God, what bullshit!   Could anyone get away with this now? Such waste and narcissism and obsessive consumerism just seems nuts, doesn’t it? However, if it turns out that this kind of shopping addiction is still considered some kind of accomplishment when I kick the bucket, I hope that my own lifetime of spending and hoarding will be honored with a similar tribute at the Met.

I would like people to wander around a huge exhibit of my red lipsticks, my cashmere sweaters, my glorious push-up bras, my boots,   my leather jackets, handbags, vintage costume jewelry, my kitsch religious crap, my sneakers, my gold bangles, and last but not least, my hair products.   The hair products alone probably represent close to $500 of wasted money.

Now I’ve gotten myself all excited about my exhibit! I’m going to have to start cataloguing everything. I can promise that I won’t be through before April, when the new leather jacket I just bought online is due to be shipped.

I kind of don’t like fat people either, now that I think about it.

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7 Responses to Nan Kempner

  1. jane says:

    i have a shrine to my fashion ignorance. i believe my taste would be classified as classically crazy, meaning i keep making the same fashion mistakes and expecting different results. it takes me two years to get it and then a few more years to get over it. monotone, layering top to bottom. no one would want an exhibit of what i actually purchased, however there should be one of the pages of catalogs that i actually considered. from victoria secret to land’s end, j. crew, abercrombi & fitch, a veritible schizophrenic display reflecting mindless late night meanderings through the what ifs. what if i didn’t have the over 50 role at the waist, what if i had no hips and long waist, what if my breasts were perky enough for the nipples to stand proudly. the corners of the magazines reflect those what ifs fantasies. the order form reflects a more mundane reality, another black t-shirt, jeans, sensible sweater, on back order shipped out of season.

  2. elena says:

    she looks like she could suck the marrow from your bones in a nanosecond. scary woman. i hope her wardrobe brought her much solace in the final hours of her life.

  3. Suebob says:

    I am a fashion don’t, as I have said before (right here, as a matter of fact). I was handicapped by a mom who had no interest in fashion, or at least none that she cared to pass down to me. As a tiny child I remember her seeming somewhat chic, but she was 35 when she had me and I was the fifth kid, so style soon gave way to comfort – I don’t think the feminist movement with its sloppy ways ever delighted anyone more. Suddenly she was freed of high heels and could wear keds and sweatshirts to her heart’s delight. That was what I grew up with, and she never gave me a bit of fashion advice, other than “Stripes and patterns often don’t go together, so don’t try it.”

    I was a nascent hippie in my teens (jeans, knee-high moccasins, silk indian kurtas, do-rags) and never really grew up. Living for 20 years of my adult life in a college town sealed the deal. Hoodies and sneaks were de rigeur, and since the rest of the adult population has adopted the collegish-slob fashion, I feel I was just ahead of my time.

    Comfort is really my key. I don’t mind putting almost anything on as long as it does not bind or gape. It helps if it does not need dry cleaning. And is cheap. I am not one to spend money on clothes (or much of anything else), not that I have ever had any extra.

    I don’t even really like fat people either, yet somehow I seem to have become one.

  4. Mark says:

    I value cost more than anything in fashion. A $2000 sweater has to be good, right?

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