Vanderbilt was born February 20, 1924, in New York City, the only daughter of railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and his second wife, Gloria Morgan. Her father died shortly after her birth, making her the beneficiary of a $4.3 million trust fund. In 1934, when Vanderbilt was 10, her grandmother and aunt instigated a custody battle with her mother that got nasty enough that tabloids dubbed Vanderbilt the "poor little rich girl," NPR reported.
"As a child, I did not feel that I was treated as a person," she said in 1981, according to NPR. "I felt really that I was treated as an object. And nobody ever really, kind of, thought, 'What is she really like? What does she like? What are her talents? What does she want really?'"
Vanderbilt’s aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who controlled $78 million and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, won custody of her niece.
Her aunt disinherited her after she married Hollywood agent Pat DiCicco in 1941, when she was 17, according to CNN and The Associated Press. The couple divorced in 1945, months after Vanderbilt took control of the trust fund left to her by her father.
Within weeks she remarried, exchanging vows with conductor Leopold Stokowski. The couple had two children before their marriage ended with a divorce in 1955, Variety reported.
Vanderbilt married movie and television director Sidney Lumet in 1956 and lived with him and her children in a 10-room duplex penthouse on Gracie Square. She divorced Lumet and married her fourth husband, author Wyatt Cooper, in 1963.
Cooper died in 1978 during surgery, according to Variety.
Vanderbilt made her stage debut in a 1954 production of the romantic drama "The Swan," at the Pocono Playhouse in Mountainhome, Pennsylvania, according to CNN. She published a book of poetry in 1955, the news network reported.
She was a fabric designer who became an early enthusiast for designer denim. She partnered with Mohan Murjani, who introduced a $1 million advertising campaign in 1978 that turned the Gloria Vanderbilt brand with its signature white swan label into a sensation. At its peak in 1980, it was generating over $200 million in sales. And decades later, famous-name designer jeans — dressed up or down — remain a woman’s wardrobe staple.
Vanderbilt is survived by three children, Leopold Stokowski, Christopher Stokowski and Anderson Cooper.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.