When Jacqueline Kennedy and designer Oleg Cassini worked together 40 years ago, they created a kind of fashion magic that has not been seen since.

The Parisian-born Cassini plugged into Kennedy's innate fashion sense, and women everywhere wanted to be just like her.


Last week, renown designer Oscar de la Renta and first lady Laura Bush - who paired up for George W. Bush's second inauguration - brought back a hint of that iconic time. And Bush's most-acclaimed fashion moment to date left style-watchers wondering if her fledgling relationship with de la Renta has revealed her more stylish side.

After seeing the first lady turn heads in an elegant pearl white suit and coat - designed by the award-winning de la Renta - during last week's inauguration, all eyes will be watching to see what her next designer outfit will be.


For its part, the White House is mum about where Bush will be next, or whom she'll be wearing.

Fashion experts and observers, however, unanimously praise the Bush-de la Renta partnership - and urge the first lady to continue to be dressed by him.

"I think she did the right thing. She looked much better than the first time around, because she was in the hands of a very competent and talented designer," says Oleg Cassini, the man who made fashion history, creating more than 300 style-setting outfits for Jackie Kennedy.

From his home in Oyster Bay, N.Y., Cassini, 91, reflected yesterday on the magic that came from his collaboration with Kennedy. The designer's own talent aside, his clothes for the first lady made headlines because Kennedy knew what she liked, and Cassini knew what worked.

"The first lady must be a leader," he says. "She must not be a follower."

Her clothes, then, should be becoming, figure-flattering, with elements of novelty that "will inspire lots of people to want to copy her," he says.

If history is any measure, the right pairing of designer and president's wife can be a powerful thing.

Jacqueline Kennedy's 1961 Oath of Office look - a chic Cassini A-line coat of gray-beige wool and an iconic pillbox hat - stood out in the crowd of long, dark coats and furs.


The other women "looked like big bears," Cassini says, "and then she came in her little basic coat, and she looked so young. And that was how I wanted her to appear: young, lovely, unpretentious and willing to gamble in a fashion direction that I suggested."

Kennedy often took fashion risks, albeit subtle ones. Her primary designer, Cassini, was American, but many of her outfits were inspired by cutting-edge European looks.

"Both Mrs. Kennedy and Oleg Cassini knew what was on the runways in Paris," says Todd Tubutis, senior project manager in exhibitions at Chicago's Field Museum, which is running the acclaimed Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years - Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum exhibit through May. "During the campaign, it became clear that she was getting some criticism for her Francophile taste. And ultimately that led to Mrs. Kennedy's working with Cassini, who was an American designer. But they certainly knew what was on the runways in Europe, and they knew what was in fashion."

Laura Bush's Inauguration Day look was fashionable, but it was no gamble.

The outfit merged easily with fashion's ladylike trend for women of all ages. The lines were simple and clean. Pretty.

"It's an easy thing to wear a shift with a matching coat," says Robert Verdi, E! Entertainment Television's Fashion Police expert. "It's smart. It has a timelessness. It's appropriate for all age groups. It's a really smart choice that Mr. de la Renta made."


Laura Bush's winter-white look may very well become a sought-after item, fashion observers say.

"I think women of a certain generation absolutely do emulate and look to see what the president's wife, the first lady, is wearing," says Anne Slowey, fashion news director for Elle magazine. "And what she was wearing was very tasteful. There wasn't this sort of ostentatiousness that we've seen in the past. I think it was age appropriate, but I also think that sort of look could work in women in their 20s and 30s. It would be a different version of it, more form-fitting, but I would not be surprised if women did choose the [de la Renta] line, as well as the colors."

But "the nude shoes," Slowey says, "I'm not so sure."

Bush's shoes may have been a miss. Some observers have found fault with her stark white gloves. Still others cast a critical eye on the glittery ice blue de la Renta ball gown she wore to the inauguration night's formal galas.

Some degree of fashion criticism comes with the territory when you are first lady.

Nancy Reagan, for example, was always very elegantly dressed - and by several high-end designers, such as James Galanos, Adolfo and Bill Blass. But her clothes still were old-money matronly.


As for the future, style experts are betting that Bush will be more influenced by de la Renta than fashionable shoppers will be by her.

"I don't think Laura Bush has any desire to be a fashion trendsetter," says Elle's Slowey.

U.S. women will continue to pay attention to her, Slowey says, because she is the first lady, not because she's particularly stylish.

"Yes, we're interested in her. We're excited to see who she chose to wear and why she decided to wear it," Slowey says. "But she's not Kate Moss."