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Fashion and Society Icon C.Z. Guest

Getty / Ron Galella

Fashion and Society Icon C.Z. Guest

Truman Capote called her a "cool vanilla lady." British Vogue said she had "the face of a flower."

Socialite C.Z. Guest was dressed by the most talented designers, lived at the most exclusive addresses –– Boston’s North Shore, Long Island, Palm Beach –– married at best man Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba, rode the most thorough-bred thoroughbreds, and partied in the most rarefied circles. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were her children’s godparents. Her portrait was painted by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Diego Rivera.
 

 

 

Guest died of cancer 10 years ago today at age 83. One of five children, she was born Lucy Douglas Cochrane in Boston on Feb. 19, 1920. Her brother’s nickname for her, Sissy, became C.Z. Her father, investment banker Alexander Lynde Cochrane, died when she was 6. She was tutored at home but graduated from an exclusive girls’ boarding school in Aiken, S.C. and made her debut at a Paris-themed ball in 1937.

Guest became a showgirl, briefly, and even appeared in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway in 1944. She did not pursue acting but in 1947 married polo champion Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, who died in 1982. The couple had two children, Alexander Guest and Cornelia Guest.

Guest was an accomplished equestrian too. While recovering from a riding accident in 1976, she turned her knack for gardening and writing into more than a pastime. Her gardening column –– based on advice she gave friends –– was circulated in 350 papers in the United States. Her first book, First Garden, was illustrated with drawings by fashion and war photographer Cecil Beaton. She herself was a favorite subject of photographers around the world including Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Weber, and Antony Armstrong Jones.

She was involved in many charitable causes –– many of them benefitting children –– and was known as an elegant and effortless hostess. In addition to writing, she designed a collection of cashmere sweaters, an insect repellent and other garden-related products.

Here is a selection of quotes from C.Z. Guest:

On style: "I like fitted clothes that show off the body."

On her own designs: "I will only sell what I like to wear."

On her brief acting career: "My ambition was to be a successful enough actress to get myself thrown out of the Social Register. I had no talent at all but I enjoyed every minute of my experience."

On C.Z.’s Bug Spray, a fragrant insect repellent: "I call myself the Estée Lauder of the garden world. I’m my own little conglomerate."

On gardening: "I've always felt that having a garden is like having a good and loyal friend."

On posing nude for Diego Rivera. "He was very nice. And I became famous."
 

 

 

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief." Find her on Google+.