Over the course of the last 30 years, she has worked as an author, an artist, and a fashion designer whose embroidered signature jeans hang in many closets.
But beyond the prestige, Vanderbilt lived a life that thrilled the gossip columnists.
In candid detail, she reveals the famous (and sometimes infamous) loves of her life in the new book, "It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir."
Vanderbilt, who is 80, discussed the book, and her life, with The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.
Among the famous men in Vanderbilt's life: Howard Hughes, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Leopold Stokowski.
Vanderbilt told Storm her relationship with Hughes was "heaven. It was wonderful."
But, Storm pointed out, Vanderbilt was only 17 at the time. "I know. I know," Vanderbilt responded. "I don't recommend it, but I don't regret it."
Stokowski, the controversial conductor, was Vanderbilt's second husband, with whom she had two children. He was much older than Vanderbilt, who told Storm they lived a reclusive life: "It was hard to raise children with him because he was touring all of the time. And we really saw very few people. Even his own children from his previous marriage, we hardly ever saw. It was a very sort of cut-off life."
Toward the end of that relationship, Vanderbilt had a one-night stand with Marlon Brando, a rendezvous that ended, Storm noted, when Brando didn't call Vanderbilt. "Well, at the time, it seemed very important," Vanderbilt reflected. "But - he was fantastic! And I was crazy about him. You know? It was a great sort of fling, you know?"
As for Frank Sinatra: "He was a wonderful friend. He came along just at the right time because I was trying to separate from Leopold, and he would not let me be free, and I, unfortunately, didn't think I had the confidence to do it on my own.
"And then Sinatra came along and just whisked me away. And wild horses couldn't have stopped me."
Vanderbilt also tells Storm why she seems to have relinquished the privacy she's known for fiercely protecting, by writing the book: "I was working on a novel and I wanted to take a break. I wanted to sort of gather my thoughts together about life and love and the pursuit of happiness. And also I wanted to write about something that interests me very much, which is romance."
Storm asked how it is that, after so many years of life's ups and downs, Vanderbilt could still write in the book, "I've lived a lot, lost a lot, had dreams of love and fateful encounters, and although I suspect the answer is in the seeker, I still believe that what I'm looking for is just around the corner."
Vanderbilt said simply, "This is what my book is about, and I want people to read it. I hope it will give them hope, because the phone can ring, and your whole life can change, and everything can - really, dreams do come true. I really do believe that, naive as though it may sound."
Click here to read a brief excerpt of, "It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir."