Sunday, May 15, 2011

Weekend Reading 11: Her Hair was Paler than Dom Pérignon: C.Z. Guest

As Raymond Chandler remarked of his femme fatale in The Long Goodbye: "There are blondes, and then there are blondes." Truman Capote on C.Z. Guest

C.Z. Guest photographed by Cecil Beaton.  1953

Weekend Reading for you from RARE vintage.  Read on...

I first saw C.Z. Guest when she was giving a talk on Long Island's Gold Coast about gardening.  You know, it is funny, but I can't remember what she was wearing.  It was what she was saying that was so interesting.  She said that her favorite garden was Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.  She had just published her third book, Garden Talk: Ask me anything.  And it did seem you could quite literally ask her anything and she knew the answer.  She published her first book, First Garden, in 1976. The illustrations were by Cecil Beaton and the introduction was by Truman Capote.  All too fabulous don't you think?!

C.Z. Guest by Cecil Beaton 

'The first time I saw Mrs. Guest was during an entr'acte on the opening night of MY Fair Lady.  Mrs. Guest was shimmering in the blue smoky light (people probably smoked during the performance too back then!).  Her hair, parted in the middle and paler then Dom Pérignon, was but a shade darker then the dress she was wearing, a Main Bocher column of white crepe de chine.  No jewelry, not much make up; just blanc de blanc perfection.'   Truman Capote.

A classic photo of C.Z. Guest in Mainbocher in her apartment on Sutton Place.

'TIME magazine published an extensive article on the upper-plateaus of American "aristocracy"; and Mrs. Guest appeared on the cover in a very formal riding habit.  Cold.  Soignée.  The Ice-Cream Lady.  Maybe so.  At horse shows. Or riding to the hounds somewhere in Virginia.  But usually observed galloping across the countryside, she is wearing cowboy chaps and a man's shirt with rolled up sleeves.'  Truman Capote

The second time I saw C.Z. Guest was by chance at Bergdorf Goodman.  She was there promoting her candles made by Slatkin.  I remember the packaging was wonderful and, of course, very chic.  The candle was poured into a cream ceramic pot with a wax C.Z. seal and when the candle was gone, there were little seeds to plant in the pot.  She also did a bug spray.  "Bugs love me," she said.  "This way they can die a happy death".  (Not sure if bugs really thought, if I had to go, at least it was by the ever so chic C.Z. Guest bug spray... but you know...)

The third and last time I saw C.Z. Guest was at Met Gala for the Costume Institute in 2003.  She was wearing a cream and gold Oscar de la Renta gown.  She had that shimmering look Truman Capote had written about.  It was her voice on the audio tour for the exhibit, 'Goddess'.  "I began, Hello this is C.Z. Guest".

Hamish Bowles wrote one of my all time favorite stories on C.Z. Guest in the 2002 Age Issue of Vogue.  Which, by the way is one of THE best issues of Vogue ever and a must have.

C.Z. Guest photographed by Cecil Beaton for Vogue 
in vintage Mainbocher from her closet under the loggia of her Old Westbury home, Templeton.

C.Z. Guest has spent her life in the pursuit of excellence and quality from around the world: linens from Mme Porthault in Paris (don't you just love the Porthault sheets with the pink hearts?  Porthault's Les Coeurs were designed for the Duchess of Windsor in 1960.  I bought them first for my daughter's bed and then feeling rather envious, for my bed at our beach house.  Not very masculine but thats what happens when the wife buys the linens: he gets to sleep on little pink hearts), riding coats made by Huntsman on London's Saville Row; saddlery from Pariani in Milan -"the Balenciaga of the tack world!"- and the trim, chic clothes of Valentino.  "How he could sew and how he could fit and how he could put in a sleeve!"as well as boutique clothes from Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent.  "I never had time for fittings when I was in Paris."

Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, the distinguished scion of the Phipps family and a supremely dashing, six-foot-four, ten-goal polo star was the love of C.Z.'s life.  "I was absolutely crazy about him.  My God, he was devastating.

Winston Guest 1930.

As a young wife, C.Z. continued to pursue her interests, riding and racing Thoroughbreds, and limited her shopping to biannual pilgrimages to her favored Manhattan dressmakers.  She also busied herself decorating residences in Long Island, Palm Beach and Manhattan.  She collaborated with Stéphane Boudin, the highly distinguished decorator from the French firm Jansen.

Templeton, Old Westbury New York now the De Seversky Center.

Winston and C.Z. Guest's penthouse apartment at 1 Sutton Place was 6,400 square feet.  The 17 room, full floor apartment had four maids' rooms, a servants hall and an additional 6,000 feet of wraparound terrace.  There were two ballrooms.  C.Z. Guest said that the apartment was "the most magnificent in New York City," but added: "It was not an apartment for a normal family.  We lived on one side, and my son, Alexander, lived with Nanny on the other side.  The New York Times

C.Z. Guest photographed by Cecil Beaton for Vogue

C.Z.'s effortless all-Amercian style was something of a revolution in her Francophile circle.  John Fairchild wrote in The Fashionable Savages, "She looks best wearing something so simple another lady wouldn't dare.  Many women make their grand entrance at Lincoln Center looking like exotic orchids dipped in diamonds and paint, while Mrs. Guest walks briskly down the aisle in  a pale cream cardigan suit." 

As a young man Oscar de la Renta was dazzled by this understated style when he was invited to old Templeton.  "The Duchess of Windsor was staying and there was Babe Paley and we were having drinks.  Suddenly, C.Z. appeared -with about 25 dogs - wearing a dark, dark grey long satin skirt and a cashmere pullover.  And I had never seen anyone dress that way.  There was the Duchess all in Dior, all gilded and jeweled, but C.Z. was totally natural.  Her life was about her dogs, her horses, her children." Hamish Bowles for Vogue 2002

C.Z. Guest in her linden allé at Templeton with her grandsons.  And wearing her own Capri sandals that she ordered by the dozens in the 1960s and still wears to this day.  
2002.  Photographed by Mario Testino for Vogue.

C.Z. Guest wearing oatmeal tweed Mainbocher in 1952 

"A woman should dress to suit her own looks 
not because something's in fashion" 


  1. Still...
    I need to know what is behind the "C" and the "Z".
    A clever, bold bird all on her own.

  2. CZ came about because of her baby brother's struggles to say the word 'sister'. And the rest, as they say, is history!

  3. Hello, I love your posts very much and always find the extremely inspirational and adds a touch of beauty to my day.

    I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to spelling and grammar mistakes and the title of this post should be 'than' not 'then' because it is a comparison :)

  4. Thank you! Oops! You are right! How embarrassing! Just the kind of basic grammar I am trying to help my children with. Oh boy...

    Glad you are enjoying the blog! I have a lot of fun writing it!!



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