On a crisp New England afternoon, the Kennedy Museum rose up out of the drab expanses of South Boston like a beacon. At the entrance, a bouquet of long stem red roses had been carefully arranged by the cashier's desk, and a simple handwritten note was placed alongside: "Entrance Free Today". The
date was November 22, in some year now lost to time.
Wandering through the exhibits that pay homage to the 35th President of the United States, the museum became a celebration of life, a documentation of
an époque that has since begun to fade from memory.
And yet the magic of Camelot lingers, and the fascination with the Kennedy mystique could not be more relevant now, some 40 years later.
There was always something special about the elegance of the early 1960s, that period in time that saw Jacqueline Kennedy grace the White House as no
First Lady has ever since done.
It is hard to imagine that the wife of a sitting President gave an interview in French to a Paris television station from the South Lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but that was the case.
It is equally hard to visualize René Verdon's sumptuous menus, which brought the exquisite art of haute cuisine to the table of La Maison Blanche. To
celebrate the United States' first manned space flight, the visionary chef composed an extraordinary dinner in honor of Alan Sheppard on May 5, 1961. Consommé sprinkled with Oscetra caviar, cervelas of lobster, scallops and pistachios accompanied by two sauces, squab in Bordelaise sauce, beef tenderloin served with a demiglace enriched with foie gras and garnished with black truffles, a salad of Mâche with hazelnut dressing, and for dessert, pasty tulips filled with fresh papaya and topped by a coulé of
In sparkling evenings at the White House, Jacqueline Kennedy orchestratedwhat has perhaps come to represent the best of the era - the confluence of
artists, writers, musicians and poets, the rich and the powerful, Heads ofState, Kings and Queens.
It was, in a very real sense, the age of Camelot, when America's ChiefExecutive and his glamorous wife came preciously close to representing royalty, while playing host to the world's elite.
Fashion of course captures the lens so seductively. One might argue thatAmericans have always been charmed by the legacy of Jacqueline Kennedy, even
those for whom she was something of an enigma.
An exhibit of her White House wardrobe was shown both at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris where
thousands of French stood in long lines just to enter.
The collection, an assortment which reflected Mrs. Kennedy's taste for Parisian Haute Couture, was something of a first - the premier exhibit of
clothing of a First Lady, and the first public exhibition seemingly to acknowledge the link between apparel, and that most elusive of terms - glamour.
In one particularly poignant photograph, one that captures the allure of a moment, President and Mrs. Kennedy greeted the Shah of Iran and his wife,
the young Empress Farah in April of 1962.
Dressed in a golden silk gown dripping in crystal, signed by Christian Dior, and accessories which included the priceless "peacock" tiara, the Empress
glided into the forefront. Jacqueline is relegated to the background, though is all the more becoming in a pink and white satin evening gown designed by Oleg Cassini.
What is intriguing is the way in which cycles bring us always back to the future. Our own era is one that has seen fashion turn towards a lightness of spirit, a gracefulness of light in play. If anything, the pastel colors and the majestic draping seen on the runways from New York to Paris for the Spring of 2004 prove that history continually repeats itself. Allure is always an antidote to the dreariness of daily news and to the monotony of routine, and so perhaps there is still a lesson to be learned from those magical days of Camelot.
11 April 1962.
Dinner in honor of the Shah of Iran. Mrs. Kennedy, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, Empress Farah, President Kennedy. White House, North Portico. Robert Knudsen, White House / John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston