Fashion icon: C.Z. Guest

The icons of the twentieth century: C.Z. Guest

She was a socialite of impeccable elegance and a star of New York’s beau monde in the 60s and 70s, but above all C.Z. Guest was—together with Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Lee Radzwill and Slim Keith­—one of the legendary Truman Capote’s “swans”. Capote, a great friend, once described her as the “cool vanilla lady”. C.Z. Guest, whose real name was Lucy Douglas Cochrane, was a style icon and unchallenged queen of New York High Society. She’s now being celebrated in a book by Susanna Salk C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon (published by Rizzoli), which includes contributions from Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg and John Rivers, among many others.

It traces her life through fabulous photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Irving Penn. A forerunner of the WASP style, C.Z., as she was nicknamed by her younger brother, who couldn’t pronounce her name, was a model, actress, horsewoman, writer, horticulturalist and intimate friend of artists and intellectuals. Born in 1920 into a famous Boston family, she married the polo champion Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, a relative of Churchill the statesman and a member of the British aristocracy. The wedding was an unforgettable high-society event: it was celebrated in Havana at the house of one Ernest Hemingway, who was also the best man.

With a start like this you would expect a film star’s life, and even her debut could have been scripted—just before she got married, C.Z. posed nude for Diego Rivera. Her husband-to-be’s family was scandalised and bought the picture immediately. A typical American beauty with champagne colour hair and large blue eyes, she featured for years in the list of the world’s most elegant women. In 1959, she was officially inducted into the Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. Just as she did every single moment of her life, C.Z. Guest filled everything she wore with elegance and charisma. Mainbocher, Ginvechy and Adolfo were among her favourite fashion houses. Thanks to her innate grace and sporty silhouette, their creations, with their clean, clear-cut lines, found in C.Z. a perfect muse. In 1962 she appeared on the cover of Time.

A few years later, confined to bed following a riding accident, she discovered her passion and her talent for writing. She started by writing about gardening, her great passion, and became an important columnist for the New York Post. Around the same time she brought out her first book, First Garden, with photographs taken by her “very dear friend” Cecil Beaton and an introduction by Truman Capote. C.Z. loved spending time gardening and devoted herself to the garden at Templeton, the Guests’ enormous summer home on Long Island.

None of her famous guests was allowed to leave without a lush, sophisticated basket of fresh produce. Adored by Salvador Dalì and Andy Warhol, a friend of Diana Vreeland and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, C.Z. Guest was the perfect embodiment of American Style.  She knew how to pair elegance and flair and transformed her own irresistible eccentricities into romantic diversions and her elite interests into genuine businesses. She demonstrated brilliantly to the world that you could be elegant and feminine without giving up your freedom and independence.

Tips for reading:  

C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon

C.Z. Guest’s 5 Seasons of Gardening

 

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