Today Princess Gloria is as religious as ever—she goes to Mass every day, even in Chelsea—but it’s clear that New York is having a liberating effect, as it has on so many old-world aristocrats before her. She speaks of an “extreme widening of the horizons” in Manhattan, where she spends a couple of months every year.
Her daughter Princess Elisabeth, a writer and editor based in London, says Gloria initially had some concerns about life in the downtown loft. “She was worried about feeling lonely, about waking up and having no one to make breakfast,” says Elisabeth, 28. “But buying this apartment is the best thing she could have done. In New York she becomes so much more adventurous and outgoing.” When Elisabeth visits, the two hit the art galleries and flea markets, bargaining hard for baubles and glassware. “Once we got some jewelry in Brooklyn for Christmas presents,” Elisabeth remembers, “and she said, ‘Oh, my God, this is so cheap, we are practically stealing. We should go to confession.’”
Gloria has no shortage of homes around the world—there’s an apartment in Rome, a beach compound in Kenya and a sprawling lake house in Bavaria—but she says none of those locales offer anything close to the stimulation of New York, where she finds herself choosing among a half dozen invitations and events each day. During one typical stay last fall, in the hours when she wasn’t going to Mass or seeing museum and gallery shows, she dressed up as a clown and partied at Allison Sarofim’s raucous Halloween bash, and cooked dinner at home for 12, including artist Terence Koh and director Lee Daniels.
Gloria bought the Chelsea property in 2006, using some of the $8 million she’d received from auctioning off part of her contemporary art collection at Phillips de Pury. “It’s always dangerous to have some cash,” says Gloria, whose direct gaze, go-get-’em manner and short, simple haircut lend her the air of a particularly well-born soccer coach. She bought an entire floor, converting two apartments into an open-plan, 4,200-square-foot space.
While furnishing the place, she vowed to import as little as possible from Europe. “Here in New York you can get everything that you want, at any time,” she says. “Then again, I don’t want to buy everything new and shiny. I like to buy stuff that has lived.”
That explains the mix of furniture and objects from the Forties through the Sixties, including many of her flea-market scores. “You cannot have enough vases,” Gloria says, gesturing around the room at various examples of colorful vintage glassware, “because if you’re popular and you have male friends, they will occasionally bring you flowers—some with long stems, others with short. And I’m not going to go out and buy new vases, because they’re all ugly.”