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From the Well-Stuffed Closets of Mrs. Thomas L. Kempner


A YSL silk faille opera cape that Kempner wore to a party at the Met in 1983.  

“I don’t think she ever lent her clothes. First of all, listen, she was so thin. I don’t know how because she was eating a lot. In fact, she was known, when she finished her plate, to attack the leftovers on her friend’s plate.”

“The last time Nan came to Paris, friends hosted a private dinner party for her in their home. She arrived in a sublime dress, with her cane in one hand and a breathing apparatus, because she was already in very bad shape. But she so loved parties that at one point she left her cane in the corner and took off her breathing mask and began smoking and drinking as if she had not a care in the world.”

“She loved tailored clothing, and had a huge number of suits in black and beige, but then she loved color, too. For evening, even though she had incredibly opulent, romantic ball gowns, she preferred formal clothes that skimmed the body, whether by Valentino or St. Laurent, clothes that have movement. And even with an evening gown she would generally purchase with a jacket or a coat, she would pair it with some sort of outerwear so she could play with it.”

“I was doing a sitting at the New York Times, where we had the thought to rent a Winnebago and go around the city and give people crowns. Driving down Lexington Avenue, we saw Nan right in front of Swifty’s. She was wearing a Bill Blass camel-hair coat with three-quarter sleeves. I thought, It’s the queen of the Upper East Side! She put the crown on and waved for the camera.”

“She went to the Dominican Republic to spend Christmas vacation. At Kennedy Airport, she fell; she was wearing those huge, big high heels, and she fell. Nevertheless, Nan got into the plane. She arrived in the Dominican Republic, in the area of Punta Cana where we live. They take her to a nearby hospital, do X-rays, and realize she had broken her pelvis. Nevertheless, she decided this was not going to spoil her vacation.

“The doctor told her that it would heal itself if she stayed there very quietly. So my wife, Annette, and I called, and we said, ‘Nan, we want to come visit you.’ And she says, ‘Well, just come anytime.’ We arrived, and she was lying in bed, dressed in the most extraordinary way, with the most beautiful pajamas, with necklaces. I mean, totally dressed up.

“When she got a little bit better, she was supposed to come have dinner with us. Annette called Tommy and said, ‘You know, I understand Nan can't come over for dinner, so don't worry about canceling.’ And Tommy said, ‘She will not come only if she's dead.’ She arrived dressed up, fully made up, which I knew must have taken a tremendous effort, in big high heels. Annette told her, ‘You are going to take those heels off right now.’ But that is what she wore. The outfit didn't call for bare feet; otherwise, she would have been.”

With contributions from Tina Isaac, Emma Pearse, Denise Penny, and Stacia Thiel.


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