Mary Millicent Abigail Rogers, better known as Millicent Rogers, was a socialite, fashion icon, and art collector. She was the granddaughter of Standard Oil tycoon Henry Huttleston Rogers, and an heiress to his wealth. With brains and beauty, Millicent was more than a catch and her money made her a target. The gorgeous young heiress—with a face “like a lotus flower,” the photographer Cecil Beaton later recalled—was fodder for gossip from the moment of her debut. Nationwide, newspapers rhapsodized about the millionairess and her many suitors: the Prince of Wales, the Duke d’Aosta, and Russian prince Serge Obolensky, among others. Dressed in Hindu costume at the Southampton Fair, as a Spanish señorita at a ball, wearing overalls in the garden, or in a chic cloche and car coat, Rogers was a constant in the pages of Vogue and the society magazines.
Through the years Rogers continued to make news with her inventive, ever-changing looks. “Paris stood up and took notice when Millicent Rogers arrived,” Horst later recalled. “They thought she was the first real American woman with any style.” In the 1930s, Rogers lived in an Austrian chalet. When not on the slopes, she hosted parties in high-low style—say, an Elsa Schiaparelli dinner suit, worn with a Tyrolean peasant blouse and peaked cap, straight from the Innsbruck tailor. (Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor copied the look.) During the war, Rogers ran a medical-supplies relief organization out of Claremont, her Virginia estate. The normally frill-forsaking designer Mainbocher was commissioned to make picturesque Louis Philippe–style getups to match her antique Biedermeier furniture. From Charles James, her favorite couturier, she ordered dozens of identical silk blouses. (Exasperated, he accused her of being a hoarder. “Not a hoarder,” her maid corrected. “A collector!”)
In 1947, Rogers retreated to the foothills of Taos Mountain. She hung the walls of Turtle Walk, her remodeled old adobe, with Gauguins and filled it with thousands of Native American artifacts—pottery, textiles, jewelry, kachinas, religious paintings. She went barefoot underneath her Navajo broomstick skirts and velvet blouses. She designed bold, heavy jewelry in silver and 24k- gold, encrusted with diamonds, turquoise, and moonstones (the weight helped exercise her left arm, weakened from a heart attack) and fabricated them in her own foundry.
It is for this last stage of her life that she is best known today. She is credited with originating what has evolved as the Southwest style. Diana Vreeland, the future editor of Vogue, once paid her a visit, which had a big impact on the wardrobes of fashion arbiters across Manhattan: “That year we all wore a black sateen skirt with ten petticoats underneath with a pink Brooks Brothers oxford,” Polly Mellen, the influential stylist, later recalled. Source