"Poor little rich girl." Inside the sad, glamorous life of Gloria Vanderbilt.

If you haven’t heard the name Gloria Vanderbilt just think Holly Golightly.

Apparently the fictional Breakfast at Tiffany’s character was based on her – an iconic fixture of the New York society scene.

The fashion designer, socialite and artist has died aged 95 from stomach cancer, as was announced by her son CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

From her childhood being splashed across the tabloids, to her son’s suicide, four husbands and fashion legacy  – Vanderbilt went from being the heiress of one of America’s richest families to being a pioneer and icon of her own creation.

She’s also the reason we are all wearing jeans.

Here is part of her son’s tribute to her on CNN. Post continues after video.

Video via CNN

“Poor little rich girl.”

Vanderbilt was born in 1924 and was the only child of railroad heir Reginald Vanderbilt and his second wife Gloria Morgan.

He died when she was one.

A custody dispute between her mother and paternal aunt when she was 10, thrust her family name back into the media spotlight.

Gloria Vanderbilt And Her Aunt Gertrud Vanderbilt Whitney At The Courthouse Of New York In 1934
Gloria Vanderbilt with her Aunt Gertrud Vanderbilt-Whitney . Image: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.

The court case earnt her the nickname "poor little rich girl" as media reported her crying in court as the dysfunction of her family played out on a national stage.

While most of America was struggling through the Great Depression, the Vanderbilts has been caught up in a life of greed and debauchery.

A young Vanderbilt was left with the equivalent of $145 million AUD in a trust fund, to share with her older half-sister once she turned 21.

Her aunt won that court case from her notoriously dysfunctional mother, who was too busy partying to parent and who apparently had an affair with a female member of the British Royal Family. A claim which caused the shocked judge to close the trial.


Vanderbilt grew up being pampered by servants, chauffeurs and tutors, but was always determined to carve out an identity that wasn't just tied to her inheritance.

She was on every best-dressed list and in every gossip column during her adolescence, and was friends with Charlie Chapman and Truman Capote, who went on to write Breakfast At Tiffany's.

Gloria is said to be the muse for Audrey Hepburn's character in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Image: Getty.

On the nickname the press gave her, she told an Associated Press interview in 2016: "I didn’t feel poor and I didn’t feel rich.

"It really did influence me enormously to make something of my life when I realised what it meant.”

Marriages, affairs, and tragedy.

Eager to grow up quickly and start her own family, Vanderbilt married for the first time at 17 to Pasquale di Cicco, a Hollywood agent. The union caused her aunt to disinherit her.

“I would have married anybody in a minute because I wanted to get out," she said of that relationship in a 2004 interview with The Telegraph. She told the publication he was abusive and regularly gave her black eyes.

After four years that marriage failed, and when she was 21 she married conductor Leopold Stokowski after only knowing him three weeks. They had two sons (Christopher and Leopold) and a decade together before they divorced.

She was married to director Sidney Lumet for a few years, and then went on to marry her fourth husband, Wyatt Emory Cooper, with whom she had two more sons, Anderson and Carter.

Cooper Family Portrait
Actor and author Wyatt Wyatt Emory Cooper, Carter Cooper, Anderson Cooper, and Gloria Vanderbilt.Image: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Wyatt Cooper died during open heart surgery in 1978 aged 50, and she claimed he was her only happy marriage.

Ten years later more tragedy struck for Vanderbilt, when one of her sons, Carter Cooper, died from suicide at just 23.

She watched him jump from her 14th floor apartment.

She has rarely spoken about the incident but has called it the "worst event of her life". 

In a 2004 memoir, Vanderbilt spoke about her numerous affairs with single and married men dropping names like Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Howard Hughes and Roald Dahl.

She brought denim into the mainstream.

Thanks to her career, she was dubbed the "feminine version of the Renaissance Man" and changed the way we look at denim forever in 1978.

Her jeans, which had her name embroidered on the back pocket and a signature white swan logo on the front pocket, were the first designer jeans in the world and the first jeans exclusively designed to fit a woman.


Before she transformed them, jeans were only seen in workmen's wardrobes.

American fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt visits Murjani, a Hunghom garment company where her jeans were made. 11JAN79
Gloria Vanderbilt is the reason we're all wearing jeans. Image: Chan Yuen-man/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

She modelled and promoted the jeans herself and they became a household name, along with her catchphrase "they really hug your derrière".

Off that success she designed shoes, scarves, bed linens and a designer fragrance called "Glorious".

At her brand's peak in 1980, it was generating more than $300 million AUD.


She was also an artist, a painter, an actress and a writer.

The real Gloria.

While Gloria Vanderbilt had a very public face, her family saw her differently.

A Conversation With Anderson Cooper And Gloria Vanderbilt
Gloria Vanderbilt aInd her CNN anchor son Anderson Cooper. Image: Jenny Anderson/WireImage

Her son Anderson Cooper in his obituary to her on CNN news, described his mother as a "visitor from another world".

"A traveller stranded here who came from a distant star that burned out long ago. I always felt it was my job to try and protect her."


"She was the strongest person I've ever met, but she wasn't tough. She never developed a thick skin to protect herself from hurt. She wanted to feel it all," he said in an emotional re-telling of her life on his flagship program.

Gloria Vanderbilt loved being in love, and her son says she is and always has been in love with something - whether that be a man, friends, books, art, her children or grandchildren.

"Love is what she believed in more than anything," he said.