• Thu, Apr 8 2010

Shelved Dolls: Gloria Guinness

Some women are renowned fashion icons in their own time, only to be largely forgotten after their deaths. Through the Shelved Dolls feature, we hope to bring a little bit of information about them to a new generation.

Gloria Guinness

1912-1980

Oh, Gloria Guinness, you were the most non-boring socialite of them all.

Readers of Women’s Wear Daily (who once called Guiness “The Ultimate” socialite) would be shocked to know that Gloria was rumored to have supported herself in her youth by working in a Mexican dance hall, and was a “woman of loose morals.” Or maybe she wasn’t. The rumor was spread by an uncharacteristically catty Babe Paley (another major socialite of the day) who was perhaps envious of Gloria’s effortless style. She had good reason to be. In her early days, Gloria used to save money on clothing by buying a piece of fabric, cutting a hole in the top for her head, and tying it around her waist with a sash. (On her, it looked good.) Gloria retaliated by inviting Babe to parties and telling her they were casual wear when they were black tie. Sometimes Babe would attempt to outsmart her by showing up in a gown, but those were invariably the few occasions when the parties were actually casual.

But where DID she come from? Well, not wealth and privilege, certainly. Gloria’s father was a Mexican journalist, and she grew up in Veracruz, but she took off to Germany fairly soon. Her days of cutting holes in fabric didn’t last for long. Count Franz Egon von Furstenberg-Herdringen married the 23 year old Gloria. However, after the Nazis came to power, she left him and fled to Spain with her two children when she met the King of Egypt’s grandson, whom she married. That alliance also ended in divorce, but she finally settled down permanently with multimillionaire Loel Guinness in 1951.

They kept homes – fully staffed, of course, with complete changes of clothes in each house so that they could travel without checking anything – throughout the world. Gloria remarked, “You can’t possibly spend 12 months at any one place.”

And oh, the dinner parties they threw. Gloria remarked, “”I give many more dinners in Paris than in the States,” says Gloria. “All the lonely boys come to see us. Actors, writers, scientists, professors, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, members of Parliament, Art Buchwald. It is exciting! When anybody comes to town they call up and we ask them to dinner. It is delightful, and so much more fun than the planned formal party.”

There were always rumors floating around her – most notably one that she was secretly employed as a spy, as she had no passport and was not a citizen of any country. Her public persona, at least, seemed slightly less exciting. She spent much of her life working as a contributing editor for Harpers Bazaar, writing plays, kicking off the Capri pant craze and generally, in her own words, “having a marvelous time.” She died of a heart attack at 65.

Steal Her Style: Capri pants, flowing tops, hair in a high bun, blazers, heavy eye makeup.

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