August 28, 1913 – Gloria Guinness:
”Chic? It is absolutely innate – I was born with it. Chic cannot be taught.”
One of my favorite books from 2016 is The Swans Of Fifth Avenue, a short, smart novel by Melanie Benjamin. It centers on Truman Capote‘s friendships with several society women, calling them his ”Swans”. The Swans were beautiful, well-married or born wealthy. They weren’t dim; they loved to read, go to films, openings and theatre. They also smoked cigarettes, drank, and enjoyed long, languid lunches.
There were other swans, Marella Agnelli, style icon and wife of Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, and actor/gardener C.Z. Guest, but the top Swans were:
Babe Paley (1915-1978) alpha swan and the one closest to Capote. She was first married to Stanley Mortimer, director of advertising for both Trans World Airlines and Pan American World Airways, she then married William Paley, chairman of CBS. Babe had to deal with Paley’s affairs with other women. She lost her front teeth in a terrible automobile accident, and she was embarrassed that she wore dentures and had facial scars. Dying of lung cancer, she planned her funeral down to the last detail including the wine that was served. In the Capote short story La Cote Basque, 1965, one of the characters was a thinly disguised version of Paley. When it was published in November 1975, Babe Paley never talked to Capote again. She left this world in 1978, a day after her 63rd birthday.
Slim Keith (1917-1990) was born Mary Raye Gross. She really was slim. And she was cool. She hung out with Ernest Hemingway in Havana and married film director Howard Hawks and lived in Hollywood. She more or less discovered Lauren Bacall. Her second husband was talent agent Leland Hayward. Next she married a British lord and became Lady Keith. She too stopped speaking to Capote after La Cote Basque, 1965, she also has a character based on her, and like Paley, she died of lung cancer.
Pamela Harriman (1920-1997) was dubbed by Capote as ”the courtesan of the century” by marrying Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill, then having an affair with businessman Averell Harriman. She also had affairs with journalist Edward Murrow, Jock Whitney (a brother-in-law of Babe Paley), Elie de Rothschild of Rothschild family banking dynasty and owner of Château Lafite-Rothschild, William Paley, and Gianni Agnelli, head of Fiat. In the late 1950s she met Leland Hayward (that’s right). She married Hayward after he divorced Slim. They remained married until his death in 1971. Her stepdaughter, Brooke Hayward, claimed that Leland sold two pearl necklaces and an emerald ring that belonged to Brookes’ mother actor Margaret Sullvan and was supposed to be passed down to Brooke. It was Harriman who sold the jewelry. Just six months after Leland Hayward’s death, Pamela married Averell Harriman, and became active in the Democratic party. She was named ambassador of Paris by William Jefferson Clinton in 1993. Averell Harriman’s relatives claimed she cheated them of money left to them. One of them Kathleen Harriman Mortimer was married, no kidding to Stanley Mortimer, Babe Paley’s first husband. Ambassador Harriman was taken by a stroke in 1997.
Which brings us to Gloria Guinness who was famous for dressing well; her designers included Cristóbal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Halston. She was an assistant editor and writer for Harper’s Bazaar while Diana Vreeland was at the magazine. She married several times, the most important and last husband was Thomas Loel Guinness of the Guinness family, makers of Guinness beer. There were rumors she was a spy and teenage prostitute.
But she might be best known for making capri pants fashionable. She was brave enough to wear white capris. I kid you not.
Eleanor Lambert, a style arbiter and founder of the Best Dressed List, called Guinness ”the most elegant woman in the world”. When Capote called her one of his swans, he wasn’t being glib: she had black smooth hair, strong brows, and a Nefertiti-like neck.
Although she lied about her origins, she was born in Mexico as Gloria Rubio y Altorre with relatives who were aristocrats with roots to the earliest Spaniards in Mexico. She claimed to be from Veracruz, but she was actually from Guadalajara, and that her father was a revolutionary killed in action (he was a journalist who died in Texas), and saying that her mother was either a maid or a seamstress, when she was a member of the local upper-class. In any case, while everyone in her social circle tried to “play it up”, Guinness “played it down” with a light and unpretentious attitude that made people attracted to her.
Her first marriage was to Jacobus Hendrik Franciscus Scholtens, a Dutch sugar factory owner in Mexico City. She was 20 years old, and the groom was 47.
Her second marriage was to Franz-Egon Maria Meinhard Engelbert Pius Aloysius Kaspar Ferdinand Dietrich, the third Graf von Fürstenberg-Herdringen. He was a Von Fürstenberg, so old money. She was his second wife and her stepdaughter from her husband’s first marriage was actor Betsy von Furstenberg, who worked in Broadway plays, films, and television series in the mid-20th century.
Before she landed Loel Guinness she was married to Ahmad-Abu-El-Fotouh Fakhry Bey, the only child of Princess Fawkia of Egypt, and grandson of King Fuad I of Egypt and a nephew of King Farouk I of Egypt.
When she married her fourth husband, she had no valid passport and was legally stateless. Guinness was an almost legendary character by this point. As the glamorous “Countess von Fürstenberg” she had friendships with important Nazis, including Hermann Göring and lived in neutral Spain throughout World War II, and was thought to have been as an espionage agent for the evil Axis.
The Guinnesses had homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach, Paris, Acapulco, Normandy, and Lausanne. They had a property in Florida which was divided by U.S. Highway A1A; the two halves of the building, which was designed in the 1940s by architect Marion Syms Wyeth, were ingeniously connected by a sound-proof living room set beneath the bisecting road. They had three private jets and a yacht on the Mediterranean.
Because of all that money, she could wear any label she chose. Her pronouncements at Harper’s Bazaar live on, and so does her influence on fashion. She launched a craze when she started wearing Pucci’s capri pants in the early 1960s.
The clothes that Guinness wore had extremely shaped well-cut lines. She favored classic shades of black, white and red to compliment her pale complexion. With high defined cheek bones, bold brows and a slim neck, Guinness was the traditional Mexican beauty. Because of her exquisite sense of style, Guinness appeared on the International Best Dressed List from 1959 to 1963 and in 1964 she was promoted and appeared in its Hall of Fame. Women’s Wear Daily called her ”The Ultimate”.
Of Capote’s flock of fabulous Swans, Guinness was the most stylish and the most mysterious. Loel Guinness paid $1 million to obtain the dossier on her activities during the war.
Oddly, Guinness feigned indifference to her lavish lifestyle, saying:
”In a way, it is a very bourgeois life we lead. So many people think it is difficult keeping all these homes, but I believe it is easier to keep five than one. You can’t possibly spend twelve months at any one place.”
She and her husband kept clothing at their various homes so they could travel with whatever they were wearing at the moment. Guinness:
”You don’t have to waste time in customs, and you don’t have to declare anything. It’s wonderful!” Can you just imagine?”
Guinness was very competitive with the other Swans, especially Paley. Once when the Paleys were to vacation on the Guinness’s yacht, Guinness gave Paley explicit instructions to only pack casual attire and to leave her jewels at home. On the first night of the trip, Guinness emerged from her cabin, jeweled and in her finest and announced that the group would be attending a formal dinner off the yacht. Wise to Guinness, Paley packed her finest things the following year, and Guinness saw to it that the party never left the boat.
Among Guinness’s plaything were David Beatty, Second Earl of Beatty, and the British ambassador to France Duff Cooper, who wrote of her:
“I have never loved anybody physically so much or been so supremely satisfied“
Like Paley, Guinness was taken too young, in 1980, at just 68 years old. And just like everything in her life, her death was also shrouded in a veil of mystery. It was reported that Guinness died of a heart attack at her villa in Switzerland, but friends believed that a disillusioned Guinness killed herself. No matter; she was an impossibly gorgeous, endlessly stylish and utterly original Swan.