Nan Kempner was never a model. She was not an actress, nor a singer, nor a designer, and she never had her own perfume line. She was famous for hosting lavish parties and for never missing a social event.
Unlike many of the socialites and party girls of today, Kempner felt no need to make her mark through a second rate acting career or by lending her name to a line of jeans. Her focus was always on the art of fashion, rather than just the business of it – and that’s what made her a style icon.
Kempner was born on July 24, 1930 in San Francisco to a very wealthy family. Her father owned a major car dealership, and her mother had a strong obsession with haute couture that inspired Kempner from a young age. She spent some time studying in Connecticut and Paris, eventually making her way back to San Francisco where she got married.
Kempner and her husband moved to New York to raise a family. There she found a job at the Museum of Modern Art. Her work led her to meet many prominent people in the art and fashion industry, and soon Kempner and her extensive clothing collection were making appearances at every major event.
Always remaining on the cutting edge of fashion, Kempner was never afraid to be bold with her style. In the late 60’s and early 70’s she worked both for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and French Vogue.
Throughout this period she had formed a friendship with designer Yves Saint Laurent. He called on her to be his muse, while she made an appearance at every single one of his fashion shows, missing only one in the span of forty years. Kempner held the record for the largest private collection of haute couture – she considered clothing to be an art form.
Kempner passed away July 3, 3005, after a long battle with emphysema.
In late 2006, over a year after her death, the Met’s Costume Institute held an exhibition dedicated to the contents of Kempner’s closet. The show was called American Chic, two words that Nan Kempner embodied everyday of her life.
Images courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.