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18 January 2012

Cherie Burns on Fashion Icon Millicent Rogers

cherie burns

Cherie Burns is the author of Searching for Beauty–The Life of Millicent Rogers, the first comprehensive biography of the Standard Oil heiress and fashion icon.

Raised in the Gilded Age of New York society, Rogers came of age as a debutante and flapper. She eloped with an impoverished European nobleman and lived with three husbands in high-living pre-war Europe. During WWII she returned to the U.S to pitch into the war effort, and at war’s end she followed American glamour–and Clark Gable–to Hollywood. Her last reincarnation was in Taos, New Mexico where she fell in love with the Pueblo Indians and re-imagined southwestern style for her followers in the New York fashion world.

Rogers was considered the first American woman with real style to merit the admiration of Parisian couturiers and fashion arbiters. Beautiful, rich, spirited and always impeccably dressed, Rogers re-invented herself with every decade of the first half of the Twentieth Century.

In addition to Searching for Beauty, Cherie Burns is author of The Great Hurricane: 1938, of which  Liz Smith  wrote in her column in The Daily News: “A must if you care about brilliant reporting…” and Stepmotherhood—How to Survive Without Feeling Frustrated, Left Out or Wicked.  It  has sold over 40,000 copies in the U.S., England and Germany and remains in print after twenty years. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine,The Wall Street Journal, People, Glamour, New York, and Sports Illustrated. She now lives primarily in Taos, New Mexico.

Cherie Burns writes: People frequently ask me how and why I became interested in writing about Millicent Rogers. I first took note of Rogers when I visited the museum named after her in Taos, New Mexico when I came to Taos with my family to ski in the 1990s.   I didn’t know much about her and the name blurred with Mabel Dodge Luhan, Dorothy Brett, Frieda Lawrence and Georgia O’Keefe, other famous women who found their way to New Mexico and left an impression with their bohemian ways, flair, mischief and artistry. One cannot but wonder at the photos of Frieda Lawrence, D.H.’s wife, with the cigarette dangling from her lip,  O’Keefe, the severe artist with her tight kerchiefs, magisterial Mabel and  eccentric Brett.   It was not until I came to live in Taos in 2005 that I routinely visited the Millicent Rogers Museum, and Millicent Rogers began to come into focus for me. She was an elegant beauty,  mysterious and evocative because less was known publicly about her life. I often took visitors to the adobe museum on the edge of town to show them the regional artistry and New Mexican sensibility on display there. Waiting for them in the lobby, I had time to study the likenesses of Millicent on the walls.

millicent rogers 2

The more I looked into her legend and realized that of her 51 year-long life, only six of those years were lived in Taos, the more intrigued I became.  Though she is associated in the modern public consciousness with  New Mexico, she lived most of her life in New York and Europe, tripping the light fantastic wherever she went. Researching her life story gave me the opportunity to learn more about Taos, and to fill in my dearth of knowledge about the 1930s and 40s, Millicent’s heydays, in both fashion and political history.

Millicent H Rogers dying her own textiles in the home of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Taos, NM 1948.

Millicent H Rogers dying her own textiles in the home of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Taos, NM 1948.

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