Twenty-five years ago this month, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died at her apartment in New York. This summer she would have been 90. Even in death, she continues to permeate our culture.
She is the first lady to whom all others are compared. The endless coverage of the sartorial adventures of the Duchess of Cambridge and Amal Clooney are littered with “very Jackie” references.
People magazine has a whole issue about her unflappable elegance, inspiring millennial readers to copy Jackie-like looks from fast-fashion shops. Even Kim Kardashian (yikes) has a piece of her: Mrs. Kanye West spent a reported $375, 000 on Jackie’s Cartier watch.
This year there are two more books to add to the ceaseless canon of Jackie-philia. In “The Editor,” by Steven Rowley, the fictional protagonist comes under the tutelage of Jackie during her editing years. Carly Simon’s memoir about her friendship with Jackie is due this fall as well.
I, for one, as a good student of Jackie, will be reading them both. But the anniversary of her passing got me wondering: What would Jackie think? In this era of ugliness and over-exposure, we need her more than ever. Is there really anyone on the world stage who rises to her mantle of Ultimate Aspirational Woman?
“She’d be horrified,” her friend, the novelist Jane Stanton Hitchcock, told me last week.
Can we imagine Jackie on Twitter, doling out random musings, or on Instagram documenting her morning toilette, like so many aging celebrities do? Her aversion to publicity and attention should be viewed as a rare virtue.
The late William F. Buckley recalled how she charmingly turned down his offer to be interviewed on a program about the Sistine Chapel. “Bill, the only time I ever appeared on television was when I took the camera around the White House after the renovations. I was so awful I decided never to do it again,” she joked. (Check out the famous White House tour on YouTube. It’s hardly “awful,” but her coyness and breathy affectations are rather entertaining.)
I remember the coverage of her funeral back in 1994, and what a good lesson it was in understatement.
“She was surrounded by her friends and family and her books, and the people and the things that she loved. And she did it in her own way, and we all feel lucky for that, and now she’s in God’s hands,” her son, John F. Kennedy Jr., explained shortly after she died.
Her funeral was like her life: private, elegant, and brief. Cameras weren’t allowed, and her casket was decorated with a tasteful cross made of Lily of the Valley, her favorite flower. Her sister, Lee Radziwill, was laid to rest earlier this year in similar stylish restraint. The Bouvier girls knew how to live, and how to die.
I can see Jackie having tea with Melania Trump in 2019. I tend to think she would appreciate the clever cat and mouse game Mrs. Trump plays with the media. “Just keep them guessing, dear,” she would advise. Jackie invented the “I really don’t care, do you?” attitude long before Melania wore those words on her jacket.
Like Jackie, Melania is Sphinx-like, ultra-feminine, but solid as a rock. Don’t try crossing her. You’ll end up like Mira Ricardel and Ben Bradlee—on the curb.
Jackie, I think, would love her dedication to her son and her healthy indifference to politics. The two would also have lots of notes to compare on marriage issues, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Jackie’s legacy in the internet age would be shut up, keep it simple, get off your phones, and go to a museum, the symphony, or spend quality time with family. When you’re having a bad day, just put on your dark shades and a Mona Lisa smile.
It’s your life. No one needs to know what you’re thinking.