This week, I flew to Washington, D.C. for work, and on the plane I watched the movie “Jackie”, starring the beautiful Natalie Portman as the late First Lady. The movie imagines her reactions during the week of JFK’s assassination, including her thoughts about his legacy and her role in shaping it, and her famous interview with Life magazine, when she compared JFK’s White House to Camelot.
It is a powerful, moving film. Ms. Portman’s performance is wonderful, alternating between heartbreak, anger, shrewd calculation, and maternal protectiveness. In flashbacks, we see her work to support her husband’s administration, bringing youth, glamour and style to a White House that hadn’t see much of those under Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman and Eisenhower. We also see her fitting herself into Washington and taking her place as a leader there in society and the arts. That would have been no small task, as I was reminded on my recent visit; I am always struck by the aura of raw power that Washington projects, with its massive, monumental government buildings, the huge Capitol, the wide boulevards, the show of muscular strength, the many statues of powerful men, the many powerful living men who run the nation there. It is so ironic that Washington’s iconic flower associated with the city is the delicate, feminine, evanescent cherry blossom. I see a similar contrast between Jackie, the feminine lover of the arts and all beauty, and the city where she had to find her place.
One especially powerful scene shows Jackie showering, at last, upon her return to the White House as a new widow, right after the assassination. It shows her naked back, with her husband’s blood running down her back in the hot water as it washes out of her hair. We know that Mrs. Kennedy was splattered with blood, as close as she was to JFK when he was shot, and that she wore the same pink suit on the plane back to DC from Dallas. It is reasonable to surmise that the first shower she took washed away blood. Horrible to know this happened to any human being, but it is a very moving, vulnerable moment in the film.
The same scene shows, briefly, an array of fragrances on a shelf. Most appear to be Guerlain, in the fleeting glimpse I got. I think I spotted Shalimar, an unidentifed bee bottle, a bottle of either Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue, and possibly one of Jicky. There was a clear view of Bal a Versailles, from Jean Desprez. Great product placement by Guerlain…
This got me wondering: what perfumes did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis actually wear in real life? According to one source, she did wear Bal a Versailles and Jicky. She is also said to have worn Joy, and 1000, by Jean Patou, Fleurissimo, by Creed, Lovely Patchouli, by Krigler, and Jil Sander No. 4.
All of those fragrances have very different personalities. How interesting that a First Lady, whose outer image is consistent with, say, Joy and Fleurissimo, also wore sexy powerhouses like Jicky and Bal a Versailles. All floral fragrances, but oh so different in so many ways! Fleurissimo, said to have been created for Grace Kelly on the occasion of her wedding to the Prince of Monaco: delicate, virginal, a fragrance for a bride veiled in white.
Joy, a sophisticated, elegant “evening perfume”, made in France and said to be “the most expensive perfume in the world” when it was launched.
Her choice of Jicky and Bal a Versailles, however, suggest a more complex, assertive Jackie. Female, as opposed to feminine. Bold and confident when necessary, or desirable.
What a complicated, lovely woman she was. I’m glad to have been reminded of her this past week, and also glad to have been able to see the fleeting clouds of cherry blossoms. Let’s not forget that many of those fragile cherry trees have outlived the men who planted them and walked under their boughs. Maybe they are not as fragile as they look.