When John F. Kennedy Jr. proposed to Carolyn Bessette, his girlfriend of two years, in 1995, the onetime Calvin Klein PR woman wasn’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of a fairytale ending with one of the city’s most eligible bachelors.
In fact, Bessette’s friend Paul Rowland recalls her being petrified.
“She seemed really jittery, and I was thinking, ‘What is going on with you?’” says Rowland, the founder of mega modeling agencies Women and Supreme. “She finally said, ‘He asked me to marry him’ with this terrified look in her eye . . . She didn’t like the spotlight. She never did . . . I reasoned with her that it’s not often you meet and get to marry the person you love, and she agreed. But I could see she was really torn.”
That’s one of the revelations in a new book, “CBK: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life in Fashion.” Author Sunita Kumar Nair gives an intimate view into the late style icon’s life as seen through the eyes of friends, colleagues, and favored designers.
“She didn’t seek fame but was carved in a certain light, a light she sometimes enjoyed but mostly eschewed, rarely speaking to the press. Instead, she used fashion as a vehicle for communication — at times to thwart the insatiable camera lens but mostly thriving in her chosen ensemble,” Nair writes.
A vintage aficionado who preferred Levi’s to Louis Vuitton, Bessette Kennedy was known to scour What Goes Around Comes Around for the perfect pair of well-worn corduroys or bootcut denim.
One friend went so far as to call her trips to the Manhattan boutique “deranged,” going to “extremes” to find “the one.”
While dating JFK Jr., Bessette donned colorful Nikes and wore her long blonde hair loose and wavy; after they married, she swapped sneakers for slingbacks and kept her locks largely slicked back.
Shoe guru Manolo Blahnik, a good friend, remembers Bessette Kennedy’s more streamlined aesthetic extending to her purchases (or lack thereof).
Though she was granted full access to Blahnik’s store — and could afford whatever she wanted — Bessette Kennedy only bought what she needed and always tried to pay.
A friend of Nair’s who worked in PR for Jean Paul Gaultier at the time recalls Bessette Kennedy borrowing pieces for a few events before promptly returning them, perfectly pressed and dry cleaned.
“There was this incredible resourcefulness about her, which was probably unnecessary because she could have just bought and been done with it,” Nair told The Post.
Contrary to popular belief, Bessette Kennedy was hardly a “clothes horse,” according to one friend.
She knew her model-like body perfectly and what would look best on it. But that never meant going overboard in store.
Frugal and exacting, she often bought the same item in different colors, favoring crisp white shirts, tailored coats, penny loafers, and lots and lots of black.
Still, and somewhat shockingly, her wardrobe only comprised an estimated 30 to 40 pieces.
“I think if you were to take any kind of well-to-do New Yorker and you look through their wardrobe — especially someone who had married into the Kennedys — you would expect at least a double or a quadruple wardrobe scenario,” Nair said.
Known for being unfailingly kind to store salespeople, as well as those unlikely to populate the parties she attended with JFK Jr., Bessette Kennedy still maintained a sharp tongue among her fashionable friends.
“Carolyn’s razor-quips, like ‘a Kate Spade bag was a poor girl’s Prada,’ were aplenty,” Nair writes.
Like her late mother-in-law, Jackie, Bessette Kennedy carried a Hermès handbag.
While Jackie preferred the Trim, Carolyn went with a Birkin, often stuffed with a change of clothes.
That’s where the similarities end, however.
Bessette Kennedy favored avant-garde designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Yohji Yamamato, gravitating toward structured pieces in dark shades.
Wearing them, she told friends, made her feel stronger.
“She didn’t go to a Chanel or Christian Dior or whatever, which is what Jackie did, and probably what a lot of Upper East Siders would do or would be expected to do,” Nair said.
Largely shunning jewelry, Bessette Kennedy was never seen in the Van Cleef & Arpels ribbon diamond necklace Jackie gifted her for her wedding.
Those close to her suspected Bessette Kennedy simply didn’t know what to do with all her mother-in-law’s keepsakes.
One friend, Betsy Siegel, told Nair that Bessette Kennedy went to Cartier to retool some of Jackie’s old pieces, especially the more ostentatious ones gifted by her billionaire shipping-magnate husband, Aristotle Onassis.
Still, she did wear Jackie’s Schlumberger rings and Cartier Tank, albeit privately.
Bessette Kennedy knew that every inch of her wardrobe would likely be scrutinized, so she dressed accordingly, and singularly, for public consumption.
“I think if she was alive today, she would still want to be a mystery, but fashion is where she showed herself,” her friend and former Calvin Klein colleague Stormy Stokes says in the book. “It was the part she was happy to display.”