What a Trip

The continuing story of Nancy Cooke de Herrera.

Still, de Herrera facilitated Maharishi’s entree into America with the help of her influential friends, including society columnist Cobina Wright, and soon everyone from The Beatles to Donovan to Mia Farrow was seeking salvation at the yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh.

"It was great fun taking The Beatles shopping," says de Herrera. "Nobody knew who they were."

It was there The Beatles penned a song, "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," in honor of de Herrera and her son, Rik, a National Geographic photographer. "It’s about my son and me shooting tigers on a hunt," she says of the White Album anthem. "The Beatles had just arrived at the ashram when Rik was telling Maharishi the story."

Memories of Farrow are less pleasant. "She claimed Maharishi made a pass at her when he was trying to bestow a spiritual blessing," says de Herrera. "Mia has a very vivid imagination and I won’t forgive her for that."

Still, de Herrera gives the star, who had outfits made by the "ashram couturier," credit for being the first groovy Westerner to adopt Punjabi dress. The Fab Four followed. "The tailor made clothes for The Beatles that changed fashion more than Givenchy or Dior or anyone," she says.

De Herrera should know. She met the Maharishi during the 12 years she traveled the world as the official U.S. "Ambassadress to Fashion," a role she first landed after winning a slogan contest for a hosiery company, though her winning entry — "Hosiery is the best cosmetic for the legs" — was ghostwritten by Burt Bacharach. The State Department later turned her gig into a permanent position.

"They were looking for the perfect American housewife, and I fit the bill," she says. "I was blonde, I had raised four children and I knew a little about cooking."

Of course, along the way, de Herrera amassed an incredible collection of clothing. The closets of her house, and those in the two cottages on her property, are stuffed with gold-threaded and intricately beaded gowns. "The wonderful thing about ethnic clothing is it never goes out of style," she marvels.
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