Unlike many memoirs written by the offspring of celebrities, Jennifer Grant’s Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant is not an exposé of a difficult childhood spent competing for the attention of a neglectful public figure. Instead, it’s a collection of sweet and often hilarious anecdotes about life at home with a very famous, enigmatic, but ultimately loving father.
On the eve of its publication, Ralph Lauren—a longtime Cary Grant admirer—hosted a champagne reception at his Women’s and Home flagship store in New York City.
As Jennifer pointed out, the event was one her father would have enjoyed immensely. The low-key, intimate mood felt as light as the flowing champagne. The celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore made an appearance, and Lauren gave a short, moving speech about his memories of meeting Cary Grant and how he has emulated, through his designs, the movie star quality that Grant exuded so effortlessly.
Following the book party, RL Magazine sat down with Jennifer to talk more about her father and his enduring legacy as Hollywood royalty and an icon of style.
RL Magazine: One thing we love about Good Stuff is the way you describe your father’s sense of style and how it speaks to his character and sense of decorum. What memories do you have of his style and the way he dressed?
Jennifer Grant: My father was known for his maverick nature. He was one of the first independent agents out there—no ties to a studio. And this was the day of the studio star. I think he dressed by some of the same principles he lived by: moderation, classicism, elegance. Dad’s sensibilities were akin to Ralph’s “dress code.” There’s a timeless quality to his style. My father always said, “You want to see people coming—and not their clothes.” There was no bauble for bauble’s sake. It wasn’t just about drawing attention to oneself. It was about simplicity and elegance. If Dad showed up today, he’d be as “in” as he ever was.
RL: Elegance is having a resurgence in fashion right now. Editors and influencers alike are noticing that men are dressing up again, and many of them take inspiration from your father and his movies. What would he think of this resurgence of elegant, careful dressing?
JG: I think he’d be thrilled because sophistication and elegance are mood enhancers, and very positive ones. Stepping into an elegant outfit makes you feel more sophisticated and that, in all likelihood, affects your thinking.
"My father always said, ‘You want to see people coming—and not their clothes.’ There was no bauble for bauble’s sake. It wasn’t just about drawing attention to oneself, it was about simplicity and elegance."
RL:What particular style habits have you inherited from your father? Do you gravitate toward any of his trademarks?
JG: For the first time in my life, I recently had a professional go through my closet and say, “You have all of this, and you need these three things to tie it all together.” She gave me a good laugh because she said, “You don’t need any more little black dresses. You have all the black dresses you need.” I like simple, classic lines, and black suits any occasion. As my dad did, I tend to buy things that last. Many of the dresses in my closet have been there for more than twenty years. I love clothes, even though I don’t buy a lot of them. What I buy, I tend to keep. As I get older, I realize that what my father always said is true: “Less is more.” It takes a certain level of comfort with oneself to wear simple, sophisticated clothing—or at least to wear it the way Dad did.
RL:How did your childhood in California and frequent travel experiences affect your taste and style and the person you’ve become?
JG: I definitely have a little hippie in me. That could be the result of growing up at the beach in the seventies. I’m very comfortable running into the ocean, letting my hair dry really curly, and putting on a shirt with a peace symbol on it. Something feels very “at home” that way. I grew up with that, and I still like the smell of suntan oil. So if I’m not wearing something classic, it might have a little hippie in it. I still love turquoise, and that’s partially a western influence—belt buckles and cowboys and all that—as well as from spending time in Palm Springs. Later, living in New York gave a boost to my sense of style. People seem to dress up more here than they do in Los Angeles. I love men in suits and women in dresses. There’s that feeling to it, “I have somewhere to go!” It’s lovely. When I moved back to L.A., I decided to keep that alive. I said, “I’m not going to forget to dress up.”
RL:You took your first acting role on Beverly Hills, 90210, which you say in Good Stuff was a reaction to your father’s death. How do you think his acting technique influenced your own?
JG: My father only saw me act once, when I was in high school. I was Dolly in Hello, Dolly! He came to see it, and I’ll never forget it—he was teary. He was crying after the show, and someone got a picture of it. He was really proud of me. I think what I perhaps naturally inherited from him was that I didn’t burden myself—or the audience—with a lot of extra movement or emotion. I had an economy about myself that let the story come through. And it made me feel really good.
"My father was as beloved at home as he was in the world, he was as amazing as a father as he was as an actor and, I would argue, more."
RL:Do you think your father would have been proud to see you acting professionally?
JG: Whether or not I had talent, he didn’t recommend acting as a profession for me because he thought it was a hard lifestyle—particularly for women. He wanted me to have a family and do something that would be compatible with that. His suggestion was that I become a composer. If he could have chosen anything for me, it would have been that.
RL:Have you taken on any acting projects recently?
JG:There’s always the possibility that I’ll do more, but I’ve come to love writing. I love the process of it, and there’s something about it that suits my personality. Maybe there’s something about growing up as an only child with a lot of solitude. I enjoy time for reflection, coming to terms with things on paper, and committing to them that way. When you put your thoughts on paper for the world to read, you have to know what you’re thinking about, and you have to have a point of view about it. I like that process.
RL: It’s a rare talent that you have to put these memories of your father on paper in a very cohesive and universal way. How do you think he would react to this book if he could read it?
JG: I hope he would say, “Good stuff!” I think he would. I think he’d like it. That was my big litmus test in writing it, and I was so conscious of it in the beginning. But somewhere in the process, I knew that, of course, to publish it, I would have to believe that my words were in line with him and that he would enjoy it. My only barometer, besides my instinct, was my stepmother [Barbara Harris]. I had such a strong feeling that I shouldn’t do it at first, but close friends said to me, “You should really do this.” When I took it to Barbara, she said, “It’s a great idea,” and I thought, “Now I really have to do it.” When I had written it, she was the first person to read it because I wanted to make sure she was pleased and that she felt he would be pleased with it.
RL: As you sat down to write this book, what did you hope to add to Cary Grant’s legacy?
JG: I think it became more specific as I wrote, and part of it really had to do with the fact that it can be very disenchanting to read about celebrities’ lives. So many memoirs are tawdry exposés, and I had a very different experience. Memoirs to me are these very ugly things, but I said to myself, “Write your version. You can write your stories.” My father was as beloved at home as he was in the world. He was as amazing as a father as he was as an actor and, I would argue, more. I felt that that deserved to be shared.
Cary Randolph Fuller is the Women’s fashion editor at Ralph Lauren. She has written for Selectism and Guest of a Guest.