Thursday, August 18, 2011

Babe Paley

"Mrs. P. had only one fault: she was perfect; otherwise, she was perfect." -Truman Capote, describing Babe Paley

After reading about Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, I've been so intrigued by the women he called his "swans". This is the third installment, and I have to say, babe Paley may have been the Swan Queen. You can read the first two installments here and here.

Born Barbara Cushing in 1915, she was the daughter of a world-renowned Boston surgeon. babe was the youngest of three girls. Both her sisters married extremely well, and babe was no exception. After making her societal debut in 1934 and graduating from Boston's The Winsor School, she met and married oil heir Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr. in 1940. They had two children: Amanda Jay Mortimer and Stanley Grafton Mortimer III. The couple divorced in 1946. Some speculate that babe neglected her children while pursuing social status and another wealthy husband. Her daughter has gone as far as to say that their relationship was "virtually nonexistent" and that the distance "was her choice, not mine."

In 1946, Babe met William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. They married in 1947 and had two more children: Kate and Bill, Jr. The couple resided in a suite at The St. Regis, and spent weekends at either of their two country homes: Kiluna Farm on Long Island or Kiluna North in New Hampshire.

During this period there were still anti-Semitic prejudices in society excluding Babe and her husband from many social functions and clubs. However, Babe kept a close knit circle of glamorous friends, including Gloria Guinness, C.Z. Guest, Maria Agnelli, Slim Keith, and Truman Capote, who she, like the other Swans, dropped after he aired their dirty laundry in his book Answered Prayers.

“I never saw her not grab anyone’s attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else.” -Designer, Bill Bass

Babe was extremely influential in the fashion world. She regularly purchased entire haute couture lines, and was voted to the Best Dressed List at least 14 times, finally being induced into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. She was once seen leaving a New York City restaurant with a scarf tied around the strap of her handbag. Apparently she didn't know what to do with it, so she just tied it there nonchalantly. after the photo was published, millions of American women copied the look and it became the hottest trend. (Side note: My mother often does this, and I do too because my mom always had. I'm excited to learn the origin of this cute trend.)
Her influence went beyond scarfs though. She made pantsuits chic, embraced her grey hair in stead of coloring it, and often, famously, mixed costume jewelry with the real deal. And, she owned lots of the "real deal" gems. Even at the Black and White Ball, she wore costume jewelry, which was very en vogue at the time.
Her life wasn't picture perfect though. her husband was unfaithful, yet extremely demanding of his wife. He demanded she be dressed to the nine's at all time, while sometimes seeming to resent her image and status as a fashion icon. The constant pressure from her husband, the media and the public for her to maintain her "picture perfect" image put a strain on Babe.

With her husband in New York City.At the Black and White Ball.

Babe was also a heavy smoker at two packs a day. The stress and the smoking eventually took it's toll, and Babe was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974. In true form, she planned her own funeral down to the last detail, even choosing the food and wine she wanted served. She allocated her personal belongings and jewelry collection to various friends and family members, wrapping the items in colorful paper and organizing it all in a precise filing system giving specific direction on how each gift would be distributed after her death. She passed away July 6, 1978, the day after her 63rd birthday.

She is regarded along with Jacqueline Kennedy, and Truman's other swans, as a true 1960s style icon and having embodied the young affluent class to which many Americans aspired during that decade.

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1 comment:

YED said...

Little did I know, that I was not the first to tie my scarf on the handle of my hand bag!! Style in northern Canada yet.