A muse to artists like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, C.Z. Guest was one of the first true fashion icons. The socialite who also became a fashion designer later in life was the first among the select list of CFDA Fashion Icon Award winners. Named in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1959.
Lucy Douglas “C. Z.” Guest (born Cochrane) was an American stage actress, author, columnist, horsewoman, fashion designer, and socialite who achieved a degree of fame as a fashion icon. She was frequently seen wearing elegant designs by famous designers like Mainbocher. Her unfussy, clean-cut style was seen as typically American.
She was born on February 19, 1920 in Boston. Her brother called her “Sissy” and she transformed that into “C.Z.” Mrs. Guest’s father died when she was 6. She was educated by tutors and later graduated from the Fermata School in Aiken, S.C. She made her debut in 1937, and was voted the glamour girl of the Massachusetts North Shore in a contest held in 1939, which prompted a brief fling as a showgirl. She appeared in a 1943 revue on the roof of the Ritz-Carlton in Boston and in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway in 1944. She spent six months in Hollywood attending 20th Century Fox’s studio school but never appeared in a film.
”My ambition was to be a successful enough actress to get myself thrown out of the Social Register,” she once said. ”I had no talent at all but I enjoyed every minute of my experience.” It was also during this period that she took off for Mexico, where Diego Rivera painted her as a nude odalisque. When she became engaged to Mr. Guest, her portrait, which had reportedly been displayed in a Mexico City bar, was bought by her fiancé’s family.
Mrs. Guest’s interest in horticulture began when she was a child following the family gardener around her parents’ estate on the North Shore of Boston. Embarking on a writing career relatively late in life, she was the author of books on gardening and a children’s book, ”Tiny Green Thumbs.” She also wrote a syndicated weekly column that appeared in 350 newspapers across the nation.
Mrs. Guest began her writing career while recovering from a horseback riding accident in 1976. While she was convalescing, frequent telephone calls from friends about their gardening problems prompted her first book, ”First Garden,” which was illustrated by her ”very dear friend” Cecil Beaton and which had an introduction by another ”dear, dear friend,” Truman Capote.
Beaton and Capote were only two in a legion of celebrities and jet-setters who surrounded Mrs. Guest throughout her vivid life. When she was married in 1947 to Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, an international polo star, heir to the Phipps steel fortune and a second cousin of Winston Churchill, the ceremony was held at the home of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, with Hemingway serving as best man.
Until Mr. Guest’s death in 1982, the couple was prominent in international social circles, hunting in India with the Maharaja of Jaipur and frequently entertaining the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who subsequently became godparents of their children, Cornelia and Alexander.
C. Z. Guest was considered one of America’s classic beauties. The writer Jill Gerston once described her this way: ”With her pale skin, blue eyes, ash-blond hair and trim figure, she is cut from the same cool, silky cloth as Grace Kelly. It is a patrician beauty that is indigenous to socially registered enclaves like Palm Beach and Southampton, a sporty, outdoorsy look that eschews makeup, hairspray and anything trendy. She has an outspoken, coolly self-assured manner and a throaty, well-modulated voice with a trace of a British accent.”
In 1962, Time magazine did a lengthy article on American society and apotheosized Mrs. Guest on its cover as the model of horsy high society. She posed in front of her Long Island estate wearing a button-down shirt and tie and jodhpurs, a sleek hound at her side, the personification of old-guard chic. Truman Capote once described Mrs. Guest as the incarnation of understated elegance and said she was ”a cool vanilla lady.” John Fairchild, then publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, described her as ”Southampton, Long Island American, Ivy League blond.” British Vogue said she had ”the face of a flower.”
Often adorned by Mainbocher, Givenchy and Adolfo Dominguez., she was chosen by the New York Dress Institute as one of the best-dressed women in the world early in the 1950’s and remained on the list for years until her elevation to the Fashion Hall of Fame.
On of the Best Dressed Women in early 1950’s
Mrs. Guest was also the designer of a small fashion collection introduced in 1985 and at the time made up principally of cashmere sweaters. ”I will only sell what I like to wear,” she said after her sweaters had been displayed flung casually around the shoulders of models at the semiannual show of the designer Adolfo Dominguez. A limited sportswear line was licensed in 1986 and in 1990 she came out with a fragrant insect repellent spray and other garden products.
Mrs. Guest died on November 8, 2003
‘‘I’ve always felt that having a garden is like having a good and loyal friend,” C.Z. Guest once said.