Flashback: Susan Gutfreund


In a 1994 interview with W, Susan Gutfreund surprised no one when she expressed empathy for Nicolas Fouquet, the wealthy French finance minister imprisoned after building Vaux-le-Vicomte, a château envied by Louis XIV, who one-upped him with Versailles. “To think that man was done away with because of jealousy,” she said. “I find that tragic.”

Gutfreund knows firsthand the capricious nature of high society. Originally a flight attendant, she married financier John Gutfreund in 1981 and soon became the flashiest hostess in a decade hardly marked by restraint. She spent lavishly on the couple’s New York apartments, their Paris triplex (with its own car wash) and her parties, at which she entertained everyone from Henry Kissinger to her social mentor, Jayne Wrightsman. One Christmas she had a 22-foot tree hoisted by crane into her River House abode. For John’s 55th birthday, she rented none other than Vaux-le-Vicomte for an intimate dinner party. She was known for extravagant gifts too. She once gave Baroness Liliane de Rothschild a stack of Marie Antoinette’s letters reportedly worth $16,000. (The Baroness refused them.)

But many of Gutfreund’s friends vanished when her husband was forced to resign from Salomon Brothers during the firm’s 1991 Treasury- auction scandal. She retreated to Paris. “[New York] tends to be a tough town,” she said in 1994. “People pick you up and drop you like a hot potato.… The friendships you form [in Paris] are different…. They stick with you through thick and thin.”

In the late Nineties a sparser social calendar made way for a second act as a decorator. Gutfreund now spends more time at Ikea than at couture shows. “I really love the high-low,” the woman who once borrowed museum-worthy Bernard Steinitz antiques for a party told Women’s Wear Daily, W’s sister publication, in 2006. And she’s made peace with her new existence. “Life goes on…,” she told W in 2000. “There’s nothing I would gain by getting on a box and explaining myself.”

Photo: The Fairchild Archive