During the haute couture shows in Paris this past summer, as the front rows filled with the usual mix of stiff-backed socialites, slouchy fashion writers and Janet Jackson, one woman—a tall, buxom glamazon in her late 40s with a long mane of impossibly blond hair—attracted the most stares. She made her entrances in a series of outré couture getups and hazardously high heels, on the arm of a hunky younger man who seemed to have been snatched from a Dolce & Gabbana casting call. There she was at Chanel, in a cream-colored dress and a bolero jacket from the house’s spring 2008 couture collection; at Christian Lacroix in the designer’s electric red embroidered jacket; and at Givenchy in a black couture fishnet trenchcoat.
The woman in question, everyone quickly learned, was Suzanne Saperstein, the Swedish-born chatelaine of Fleur de Lys, one of Los Angeles’s most extravagant homes. Although Saperstein, a former model and competitive skier, was no newcomer to Paris (she’s been a dedicated couture client since the Nineties), she had been mostly absent in recent seasons as she weathered a bitter divorce from her husband of 21 years, Texas billionaire David Saperstein. Among the jaded onlookers at the shows, Saperstein’s fashion-victim ensembles and 33-year-old boyfriend (former pro soccer player Christopher Roselli) sparked a range of comments, some kinder than others. But any critiques from the crowd were mild in comparison to the torpedoes Saperstein fires at herself a few weeks later, over lunch at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. As she amusingly mocks her physical imperfections, her taste in clothes and her tendency to get bloated during transatlantic flights, Saperstein confesses to a self-doubt that knows no bounds.
“I’m the most insecure person you could ever run into in your entire life,” she says, taking a sip of white wine. “When I’m watching a football game and the players get into a huddle, I think they’re talking about me. They’re saying, ‘Oh, God. Did you see that dress? That hair?’”
If Saperstein has been feeling fragile lately, no one could really blame her. One day in 2005, as she was flying to Europe on the family’s Gulfstream IV, the plane made a stopover in Texas, where she was served with divorce papers. David, it turned out, was dumping her for the family nanny, Hillevi Svensson, who was also tall, blond and Swedish—but only 32. (Alimony laws are more restrictive in Texas, where the Sapersteins had a home; Suzanne later counter-filed in California.) The couple met in the early Eighties, after David had founded Metro Networks, a helicopter traffic-report service. They struck it rich in Houston, then moved to Los Angeles and in 2000 settled into their 45,000-square-foot French-limestone dream house, inspired by Vaux-le-Vicomte. Suzanne made dozens of research trips to Europe and stocked the place with first-rate 18th-century furniture and Fabergé eggs.