Who was CZ Guest?
Imagine being sophisticated enough to be called a "cool vanilla lady" by one of America's foremost literary minds: Truman Capote. Elegance was the anchor that Boston-born CZ Guest, a gazelle among the author's so-called swans, set for herself. CZ, born Lucy Douglas Cochrane in 1920 and called "Sissy" or "See Zee" by her brother, was an avid gardener and horse lover. She combined the Hollywood beauty of Grace Kelly with the social diary of Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly - a found feast for hungry journalists peddling columns about the glitterati.

Who better to impersonate a woman who was voted best dressed by the New York Dress Institute so many times that she was eventually inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame than Chloë Sevigny, the eternal It girl of Manhattan? The "Kids" actress will star alongside Naomi Watts as Babe Paley and Diane Lane as Slim Keith in Ryan Murphy's "Feud: Capote vs. the Swans". While Capote's sharp comments in his infamous "Takedown La Côte Basque 1965" hit Guest's uptown sisters hard, CZ kept a greater distance from a tortured soul desperate for recognition in high society.

She was the woman who designed a line of cashmere sweaters and said, "I only sell what I like to wear." She even developed an insect repellent spray for gardening enthusiasts. At her coming-out party at 17, her peers danced in a ballroom decked out like the streets of Paris, but she was just as happy cutting her zinnias. CZ was a polite enigma with a private life (her wedding to Winston Frederick Churchill Guest in 1947 took place at the Cuban home of her best man, Ernest Hemingway) that matched her confidence in knowing her good fortune. "I never made a movie," said the once aspiring actress who never got her big break. "I went to parties with Victor Mature, Bruce Cabot and Errol Flynn. I played tennis every day and loved every minute of it."

When she died in 2003 at the age of 83 at her home in Old Westbury, Guest left behind her influence on American style, from the flashy uniforms of Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors to Oscar de la Renta's classic evening wear with a touch of eccentricity. Not to mention the numerous cheerful excerpts from her gardening column and her books, the first of which was illustrated by Cecil Beaton. "What's wrong with women inspiring others to higher standards?" she said in a 1976 interview. "Think of all the wonderful works Marie Antoinette and Madame Pompadour inspired by artists and craftsmen." In "Feud," CZ Guest's unique brand of vanilla coolness is once again evident as we engage in the delicious dichotomy of someone who straddles the line between haute couture and cozy.

Her understated brand of polished outdoor chic - she lived in sleek US designs by Mainbocher and Adolfo with a touch of Givenchy - lent her an air of sobriety. However, the delicious anecdotes about her private life (Guest once posed nude for Diego Rivera in Mexico) put her back on a pedestal. For every picture of her in breeches on her beloved horses, there was a carefully selected, colorful photo by Slim Aarons, for whom she became a muse. (See also Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí).
May 23, 2024