The Fashion Details to Know About Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s Minimalist Wedding Dress

It was the silk slip heard around the world. Calvin Klein publicist Carolyn Bessette married John F. Kennedy Jr. to much fanfare in 1996, tying the knot at a rustic chapel on Georgia’s Cumberland Island.

Even 20 years after the couple’s tragic death, Bessette Kennedy lives on as a symbol of grace, class and perhaps most recognizably, style. This is explored in Sunita Kumar Nair’s new biography, “CBK: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life in Fashion,” out Nov. 23.

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A newly published excerpt from the book has revealed a surprising anecdote about Bessette Kennedy’s wedding day, including a wardrobe malfunction that delayed her walk down the aisle.

Ahead, WWD dives into the history of Bessette Kennedy’s famed frock.

It put Narciso Rodriguez on the map

Bessette Kennedy met the then-unknown designer when they were both working at Calvin Klein. The two struck up a friendship before Rodriguez became design director at Cerruti in 1995. Following her engagement to John, Bessette Kennedy asked Rodriguez to design her wedding gown over drinks at The Odeon restaurant in TriBeCa.

“She loved him,” said Paul Rowland, a close friend and colleague, in “CBK.” “She wanted the best for him as she did for everyone. She always championed the underdog. That’s what made her so special.”

Bessette Kennedy attended two hours-long fittings in Paris before the dress was complete. Rodriguez gifted the gown, worth approximately $40,000 at the time, to his friend and client.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. on their wedding day.
Denis Reggie’s famed photograph of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on their wedding day.

The bias-cut silk crepe sheath with a cowl neckline upended the popularity of princessy, puff-sleeve brides, ushering in the craze for simplistic, slip-style wedding gowns. With the recent revival of ’90s minimalism — now termed “quiet luxury” — Rodriguez’s design has proven timeless.

“I made that wedding dress with so much love for the person that I loved most in the whole world,” Rodriguez told PBS in 2020. “I never viewed it as a press event.”

Following the Kennedy wedding, Rodriguez’s career soared. In 1997, he left his post at Cerruti and launched his own namesake label.

Adjustments were made at the last minute

In the weeks leading up to her nuptials, Bessette Kennedy lost weight and her dress was too loose on her wedding day. As confirmed by her hairstylist, George Kyriakos, in “CBK,” it was taken in just hours before the ceremony.

“She was late to the wedding, perhaps in her nervousness of getting everything perfect,” added Sasha Chermayeff, a close friend of John’s. “I always thought that it made everything perfect in a way because the evening sun was setting and then the wedding was candlelit. It was beautiful.”

The gown inspired Meghan Markle’s “second” wedding dress

The Duchess of Sussex has long admired Bessette Kennedy. In a 2016 interview with Glamour, Markle cited the ivory slip as inspiration for her future wedding dress.

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 19: Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex leave Windsor Castle after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House, hosted by the Prince of Wales on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry leave Windsor Castle after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House in 2018.

Upon marrying Prince Harry in 2018, that manifestation materialized in Markle’s Stella McCartney reception dress. The silhouette of the Duchess’ silk crepe halter neck frock clearly evoked Bessette Kennedy’s.

Launch Gallery: Photos of Style Icon Carolyn Bessette Kennedy

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