It was her rarefied sense of style that ultimately helped Guinness bounce back. After spotting her at a party wearing a hat that looked like a cathedral, Guinness’s great friend, the late, flamboyant fashion editor Isabella Blow, gave her a job as a contributing fashion editor at Tatler. Her creativity soon blossomed. During the past few years she has designed a collection of shirts for London’s avant-garde Dover Street Market; financed and produced an Academy Award–nominated short film, “Cashback,” about a lovelorn supermarket clerk; and directed a short film of her own, “The Phenomenology of Body,” in which 13 archetypal women—from Eve and Madame Mao to, simply, the Housewife—are shown revolving on a turntable. Meanwhile she has been styling fashion shoots for her close friends photographers Steven Klein and David LaChapelle.
Last winter, after she sold her house for a reported $35 million, Guinness camped out in a suite at Claridge’s along with what she called the “greatest hits” of her clothes collection. The remainder she had warehoused. In April she staged one of the chicest spring cleanings ever, putting about 1,000 pieces up for auction. The sale allowed her to donate more than $158,000 to Womankind Worldwide, a charity created to improve the standards of living for women in developing countries.
At the time she called the auction “a cathartic experience.” Today, alternating sips of Red Bull and Lapsang souchong, Guinness, 41, is less certain that it was. “No. It’s still there,” she says with a melancholy air, referring to the past. “But it’s one step on the road. Those dresses represented a part of my life I wasn’t really proud of, that hadn’t been particularly pleasant. But I thought if I could use them to make other people happy, that would maybe redress that nightmare.”
The closet cleaning has left Guinness free to spend more time in New York, in any event. She is about to move into a sizable apartment she purchased on Fifth Avenue, which architect Daniel Romualdez is designing. “It will be calm, black and white, not really modern,” she says. Although she plans to divide her time between Manhattan and Europe, the apartment will allow her to be closer to her eldest son, a sophomore at Yale.
While in Manhattan, Guinness has frequently been spotted with Bernard-Henri Lévy, the dashing and wealthy French intellectual, who is married to Arielle Dombasle, the curvaceous chanteuse and actress. Unlike in Paris, where Dombasle is much liked, and where the pair is considered one of the city’s most celebrated couples, New York is neutral ground. Guinness and Lévy’s public appearances here included a lunch in November at the Four Seasons, where Guinness made a spectacular entrance. Clad in a cloud of feathers and fur and sporting huge sunglasses, she walked a lap around the Grill Room before joining the waiting Lévy—also in dark glasses—at his banquette. A diner at a nearby table reported that the two just looked at each other for several minutes before speaking, and never doffed their sunglasses.