Socialite Scandal: Wallis Franken

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This fashion muse was an American, but Parisians claimed her as their own. It’s highly unusal for anyone to be considered an honorary Parisian, especially U.S. citizens. But Wallis Franken was an irresistable bon vivant. And she loved Paris right back. Right up to the day she plunged to her death from her kitchen window at Rue de Lille.  Was it murder?

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perhaps a very fitting photo

Wallis Franken didn’t just generate headlines from her death, which rocked the Paris couture world. The public was shocked when she married the openly gay and hard-partying Claude Montana. Though friends begged her not to do it, nothing could derail her. As a high-fashion model, she had been his muse since the 1970s and considered him to be her alter ego.

What Parisians found remarkable about Wallis, aside from her androgynous beauty, was her ability to always be carefree, light and “up for anything.” It couldn’t have been easy, considering she endured years of her husband’s jealousy, public trysts with other men and the verbal abuse she received, with him referring to her as a “weight.” He called her “old and ugly,” while she was still in fact young and beautiful.

She was an accomplished cook, a graceful dancer, had excellent taste and was adored by fashion designers, who turned her into an International figure. They felt her special breed of elegance always made their clothes look impeccable.

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her early modeling days

Wallis and Claude’s neighbors were used to hearing fights and loud music emanating from their Paris apartment, but no one heard the thump of her body when she swan-dived 25 feet onto the cobblestones below her kitchen window. An autopsy revealed she had alcohol and cocaine in her system. She had no signs of self-defense on her body but her shirt had been torn, which police found alarming.

Whether or not her abusive husband had pushed her out of the window remains unknown, though members of her family have no doubt that years of his abusive treatment was the cause of her death regardless. Claude Montana didn’t show up to Wallis’ wake and dinner, but did show up to the official memorial, wearing lip gloss, make-up and sporting dyed orange-yellow hair. He mumbled an inaudible poem that people even in the front row couldn’t her, and exited the service speaking to no one.

Many protested the memorial altogether, refusing to go to “Claude’s apologia.” They hadn’t missed much. The condemning priest simply scolded the attendees about the travails of their lifestyle, which he blamed for her death. Her daughters brought a Khalil Gibran poem to read, but couldn’t find an opportunity to recite it.

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Wallis was a jet-setting model before she became Claude Montana’s muse

One thing that many people found so shocking about her death was her strong sense of self, and lust for life. Regardless of the pain she was hiding, she always had a carefree exuberance. She was a true bon vivant.

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Photoshoot of Wallis Franken posing as Wallis Duchess of Windsor

 

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In Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video

 

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Uncovering a Jackie O. Hideaway

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Growing up outside of Washington D.C., I’d pass the mysterious iron gates guarding Dumbarton Oaks, but the ornate black and gold facade hadn’t yet piqued my curiosity.

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Then, like many people around the world, I became fascinated by the Kennedy family and discovered that Jackie O. and many other Washington socialites liked to relax at Dumbarton Oaks. Just a few blocks north of bustling Georgetown, it features 53 acres of serenity and was but walking distance from the Georgetown home Jackie moved into after JFK’s assassination, pictured below:

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The home was purchased in 1920 by Milded and Robert Bliss, and found the grounds rather neglected. They hired progressive landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to design the various terraces, gardens and more.

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I spent a summer day alone on the grounds, exploring and taking note of inspiring techniques which I will use on my own property. Every home needs a cutting garden as does mine. But this estate goes far beyond flowers. I’ve since installed fruit-bearing trees, a grapevine, ornamental trees and am on the hunt for a spooky, romantic weeping willow.

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Dumbarton Oaks was a place that provided much solace for a grieving Jackie O., and it most certainly gifted me with an exhilarating Sunday, free from the stress of daily life. It’s a must-see for all nature-lovers, gardeners and would-be Bunny Mellons!

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Socialite Obsession: Isabella Blow

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You know you’re someone when Anna Wintour speaks at your memorial service. Or when Joan Collins speaks at your funeral. Joan would never waste her time on mere mortals.

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Isabella Blow didn’t need to die to get such reverential treatment. She chose to end her life in spite of it, after battling depression and being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But let’s not have her death and much-publicized disappointments overshadow her  brilliant  life.

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When one thinks of Isabella Blow, they think of her outrageous hats. This post will feature a few of these, and highlight some creative achievements that get overshadowed by her personal tragedies in the media.

  • She began as an assistant to Vogue’s Anna Wintour. Did not freak out.
  • She was a muse for designer Phillip Treacy, with whom she shared a lifelong collaboration after he created a wedding headdress for her.
  • She was the Fashion Director for Tatler.
  • She discovered the fashion world’s enfant terrible Alexander McQueen and model/actress Sophie Dahl.
  • She consulted for DuPont Lycra, Swarovski and Lacoste.
  • She made a cameo in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic

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And these accomplishments are just the icing. She was a socialite, but when out and about in the fashion scene, she didn’t merely get tipsy with friends. She made deals and enjoyed creative collaborations. She was more interesting than she was beautiful. More business-minded than she was bubbly. And more sensitive than many of us. She left us too soon.

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Socialite Obsession: Millicent Rogers

Millicent Rogers Muse 1The word “socialite” is thrown around too loosely, just like the term “genius.” I have a slight obsession with socialites – the classic ones. I don’t favor the nouveaux riche girls – gold-digging, ostentatious and all too willing to use a sex tape to bolster them to very temporary tabloid fame.

At least socialites back inRV-AE203_ROGERS_G_20110909030651 the day had a tougher time breaking into a man’s world. And those glass ceilings gave a lot of them gumption; one of the reasons why so many gay men adore them.

Take Millicent Rogers. An heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, she’s regarded as a fashion icon and art collector. All of these things are true. But she was also a pioneer. With art, she didn’t collect just the standard European classics. She was an early champion of Southwestern-style art and jewelry. In fact, she’s credited for bringing international attention to this style.

Most New Yorkers retreated to Palm Beach or Italy to get away from the city, but Millicent retired to Taos, New Mexico. Back in the 1940’s, Taos was but a small artist colony. It wasn’t yet the spiritual stomping ground for Julia Roberts and Dennis Hopper. She was ahead of her time. So ahead of her time, that she was one of the first celebrity activists for Native American civil rights.

But the thing I am most impressed by, is that she wasn’t a whiner. Her heart was bigger than the average heart. I’m 03-18-12-dogs-in-vogue-book-05not talking about kindness. At her autopsy, her heart was discovered to be four times the size of a regular human heart. She had rheumatic fever as a child, and doctors said she wouldn’t live past ten. While they were wrong, she suffered poor health the rest of her life. This included heart attacks, bouts of double pneumonia and by the time she was 40, she was mostly crippled in her left arm. She died following surgery for an aneurism.

That didn’t stop her from marrying three times, and having romantic trysts with the likes of Clark Gable and the Prince of Wales. She raised three children. She lobbied for civil rights in Washington. She was a hot item on the New York social scene and photographs of her were often featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

She never dwelled on her ill heath, failed marriages and she certainly never tried blending in with the pack. Every time she veered off the reservation, she did something great she was remembered for.