With her swanlike neck and clever sense of humor, Gloria Guinness effortlessly reigned over the jetset in the Sixties and Seventies. Born to modest means in Mexico, she rose to the top of the social heap after wedding banking heir Loel Guinness. (It was either her third or fourth marriage, depending on the account.)
Despite being a fixture on best-dressed lists, Guinness, who favored Balenciaga and Halston, insisted she was no slave to fashion. “I think everyone envisions me sitting at Alexandre’s all day, picking out beautiful clothes from passing couturiers,” she told W between puffs of a cigarette at her 600-acre Normandy stud farm in 1980. “My God, could you imagine the boredom?”
She did, however, appreciate elegance in others. “I love to look at women with good bones and good bodies in good clothes,” she informed W in 1976.
In addition to the Normandy place, Guinness also maintained residences in London; Paris; Lausanne, Switzerland; Acapulco, Mexico; and Palm Beach. She loved hosting and traveling with rich and influential friends like Babe and William Paley (“We all follow one another around,” she told W in 1972). Poking fun at her pals brought her particular joy. “I love pulling the legs of powerful people,” she said in the 1980 interview, citing a night in Acapulco with Henry and Nancy Kissinger and Lady Bird Johnson. “I told them I was very upset that both California and Texas had been taken away from Mexico unfairly and I was about to join an organization committed to recovering them. Kissinger was worried that I might cause an international incident, and poor Lady Bird was imagining life without the ranch.”
Though willing to fib for a joke, Guinness insisted upon authenticity in important matters, like jewels. “I’ve never worn costume jewelry in my life,” she told W in 1976. “It’s really very self-defeating. Why should a man buy a woman real jewelry when she wears false pieces?” Such wisdom came naturally, it seems. “Chic? It is absolutely innate,” she declared to W in that same interview. “It cannot be taught.”