Nan Kempner the Anti-Paris Hilton: Classy, Dignified, Relevant


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Nan Kempner grew up in a wealthy family, and she married rich. Like many women of her generation and background, the socialite occupied her time with charity work and fashion, but no one could accuse her of dabbling. Over thirty years, she raised $75 million for cancer research. In many ways, her collection of designer clothing and accessories is even more impressive.

Kempner, whom Diana Vreeland famously called the one chic American woman, had an eye for detail and she knew how to make the most of her body (flat chested, flat bottomed, leggy). She got her first couture dress for her debutante ball in 1949 and never really stopped shopping. She liked Dior and Valentino; she loved Madame Gres and Yves Saint Laurent. Chanel bored her.

A small portion of Kempner’s Imelda Marcos-sized collection has traveled from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Arranged by Harold Koda, “Nan Kempner: American Chic” opened June 18 and closes November 11.

—Ellen Charles

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