Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac
Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac, who has died aged 92, was the former wife of Prince Edmond de Polignac, and more than once survived crises that would have consigned a less determined person to social ostracism.
Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac at a party at Maxim's in London Photo: DESMOND O'NEILL
5:43PM GMT 04 Feb 2011
She was born Ghislaine Brinquant in Biarritz on September 5 1918, daughter of Victor Brinquant, a Parisian, and Simone Durand de Villers. A vivacious blonde, Ghislaine caught the eye of Prince Edmond, scion of one of France’s great families, and they married in Paris on July 7 1939, when she was 20.
She later made an equally vivid impression on the British ambassador in Paris, Duff Cooper, who invited her to lunch at Larue’s in February 1946, afterwards noting in his diary: “She is a girl after my own heart, good company, a formidable appetite for pleasure and no nonsense about love.” Ghislaine informed the ambassador that — having married and produced four children — she considered that she had done her duty and was now determined to have a good time. He mused: “I have no doubt she will succeed in doing so. I shall do my best to help her.”
She became his mistress at about the same time as he took on Gloria Rubio, then married to the Egyptian Prince Ahmad-Abu-El-Fotouh Fakhry Bey, and later better known as Gloria Guinness. One evening Cooper found himself at a party given by Gloria at which Ghislaine and her husband were present. He arrived with yet another mistress, the writer Louise de Vilmorin, and judged the occasion like a ball in Balzac: “Everyone looking at everyone with suspicion.”
By June that year Ghislaine was installed in a ninth floor apartment at the Hotel George V. Once when Cooper arrived to see her she popped out of her room with a finger to her lips and he was obliged to spend five minutes on the roof while she bade farewell to another visitor.
Polignac divorced Ghislaine in November 1946 and afterwards went to court to try to prevent her from using the princely title; he lost, and she remained Princesse de Polignac to her dying day.
In the summer of 1947 Rosita Winston, golden-haired and part-Cherokee Indian, rented the Chateau de l’Horizon in the south of France and offered indiscriminate hospitality to the relatively impoverished French aristocracy, including Ghislaine de Polignac. Such was the press of titled Gauls at the table that her husband, Norman K Winston (a saturnine figure who had created a vast property empire and was worth some $40 million) took to lunching by himself at Eden Roc. Presently Mrs Winston paid Ghislaine’s way over to New York, where she bought her new friend a trousseau of Dior “New Look” clothes.
There Ghislaine became involved in something of a cause célèbre. On the afternoon before one of Kitty Miller’s famous New Year’s Eve parties, Mrs Winston went to the hairdresser and came home to find Ghislaine in bed with her husband. At the party she announced this to the assembled company. Cecil Beaton recorded that “her horrible houseguest, that bird-seedy Princess de Polignac” had been beaten up by Mrs Winston and packed off on the next aeroplane to France. The story got into the newspapers, and not long afterwards Norman Winston felt obliged to transfer a considerable holding of stocks to his wife, along with a platinum mink cape and some emeralds.
Beaton relished this “really juicy scandal” and tried it out on Greta Garbo, with whom he was pursuing a somewhat tortured love affair. She was not impressed, dismissing it as boring gossip. He got a better hearing from Lady Diana Cooper, who wrote back: “I’m awfully sorry for her [Ghislaine]. True, in 100,000,000 Americans she was foolish to pick Mr Winston, but poor girl to have to crawl back to Rheims, tail gripped between those ungovernable legs. Humiliation.”
By the early 1950s Ghislaine was the girlfriend of Christian Mégret, a drama critic, minor novelist, and considerable ladies’ man. She had often been entertained by the flamboyant Chilean Arturo Lopez and his young protégé, Alexis de Redé, and furnished Mégret with intimate details of their curious relationship . In 1953 Mégret used this material in his sub-Harold Robbins-type novel Danaé, and it was soon the talk of Paris.
As a result Lopez banned Ghislaine from his house . Later, however, Redé relented and they all became friends again. He commented: “She can still be very entertaining, and she has always been a live wire in Paris life. She is certainly a survivor, adapting like a chameleon to the changing times.”
Survivor she proved to be. In 1952 she was hired by Max Heilbronn and Raoul Meyer of the department store Galeries Lafayette as their first fashion stylist. She published the first article on “Prêt-à-porter”, entitled “Aimeriez-vous trouver vos robes toutes faites?” Her job was to go around the collections and choose pieces for the store to produce as ready-to-wear clothes. One day the Duchess of Windsor spotted her in a soberly cut light coat and asked her: “Ghislaine, don’t tell me it comes from the Galeries Lafayette?” On the spot the Duchess ordered one in blue and one in pink.
Ghislaine also assisted society figures while using her extensive contacts book to create publicity for fashion houses and designers, Pierre Cardin for one. She lived well, staying in expensive hotels and occasionally emerging from helicopters with the likes of the American tycoon Oscar Wyatt and his wife Lynn.
She once wrote a rude poem entitled: “Advice to a foreigner on how to succeed in Paris”, which ended with a line about Pamela Harriman: “C’est chez Pam qu’on va baiser.” She also drew light but charming sketches of her society friends and designed elaborate menus with a certain flair.
But Ghislaine de Polignac could also be ruthless. She took a dim view of a society figure who became depressed and threw himself out of the window at his host’s chateau, landing in the moat (so that it was a long time before his body was found). Declaring this to be bad manners because lunch had been delayed, she added: “Listen. If you want to die, there are plenty of places in the world where you can go . You go to Dubrovnik, you put on a moustache and you say you’re a Croat. Someone will certainly kill you.”
She was spoken of as a close friend of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, though the Duchess’s office considered her what they called a tire-bouche (someone who fills a space at dinner parties), while the Duke called her “Oui, Oui” — Ghislaine’s favourite expression.
She was fond of the Windsors and often spoke warmly of them. She also described how the Duchess did not like her husband to linger too long with the men in the dining room and never praised her chef, but criticised him so as to keep him on his toes.
At the Duchess’s funeral in 1986, Ghislaine was given a front-row seat in St George’s Chapel . As one of the last surviving friends of the Duke and Duchess, she made some spirited contributions to television documentaries about them.
In later life she had a boyfriend, Baron Philippe du Pasquier, a bon vivant who enjoyed food and wine. She cut an elegant figure as she tottered on high heels through the 8e arrondissement of Paris.
The Baron predeceased Ghislaine, and she is survived by two sons and two daughters. A mass was said for her in Paris on February 3. Prince Edmond de Polignac died in 2010 .
Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac - Telegraph
Makes the gossip of today look positively pedestrian.