by Eric Newill, Orbmagazine National Editor
In an age of disposable fashion and revolving-door celebrity, the legendary world of Gloria Guinness may have slipped into obscurity. But to followers of international society, her allure remains as resonant as it was when she died in 1980. A woman of stunning beauty and razor-sharp instincts, Veracruz native Gloria Rubio Altorre worked her way up from toiling as a nightclub hostess to becoming the wife of some of the world’s wealthiest men, among them U.K. magnate, politician and banking heir Loel Guinness. Her incomparable chic cemented her key position as one of Truman Capote’s ineffable Swans.
Now, the estate Loel and Gloria Guinness shared in Manalapan, Florida (one of many they frequented throughout the globe), is on the market for “just under $200 million,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Gemini, an iconic property near Palm Beach, consists of two houses on a 16-acre piece of land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Worth. Connecting the structures is a series of underground tunnels, one of which Gloria famously decked out as an air-conditioned, furnished “living room,” complete with skylights and artwork by a Frenchman who had caught her interest.
It is being offered through Christie’s International Real Estate by the Ziff publishing family, who purchased it in the 1980s. In addition to 1,200 feet of beachfront, the property features a miniature golf course with a decorative model train set, two practice putting greens, tennis and basketball courts, and a bespoke Orchid Alley, filled with hundreds of blossoms refreshed regularly.
And, of course, there’s the Guinness provenance. After first marrying and quickly divorcing a Dutch sugar-factory functionary, Gloria jumped up the social ladder by snagging German aristocrat Franz Egon Graf von Fürstenberg-Herdringen in 1935 (yes, of that family), and then, after their separation, Egyptian royal Prince Ahmad Fakhry Bey. The Guinness moniker came last, in 1951. In the States, she penned columns for Harper’s Bazaar, and became an inevitable presence on the International Best Dressed List, wearing creations designed for her by Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Valentino, Halston and the like. (She attained Hall of Fame status in 1964, perhaps by first sporting Pucci’s capri pants.)
“She had great style, and was very diminutive,” remembers Guinness’ longtime friend Kenneth Jay Lane, whose jewelry creations she often wore. “One could recognize her from a sketch, and for a small woman it’s not easy to achieve that kind of elegance. She had a particularly unique way with scarves, and when she wore my stuff, instead of choosing just one piece, she put them all together.”
Gloria’s “acerbic wit” was another of her social hallmarks, says Lane, who spent a weekend at Gemini in the late 1950s. He recounts another evening, this one a dinner en plein air in the South of France, hosted by the Guinnesses and the Agnellis: “It was about 30 people at a very long table, and the husbands were talking about going fishing the next day. Gloria held up her wrist, adorned with exquisite pearls, and announced, ‘I’ve already caught my fish.’ ”
During the ’60s, intrigue reared its head with rampant gossip about Gloria being a go-between for the Axis when she was the Countess von Fürstenberg during WWII. Though no actual facts have surfaced, the beau monde couldn’t get enough of the topic, and the mystery is part of her lore to this day.
In addition to Capote and Lane, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cecil Beaton and other members of the glitterati were frequent guests of the Guinnesses in Florida. Beaton was amused by the rampant self-indulgence of the place, and waspishly referred to Palm Beach as “a world apart, a hangover from when privilege was everything.”
That privilege may still be everything, but even so, the $200 million asking price may be optimistic. According to Bloomberg News, although prices for luxury residences are reaching record heights, the most paid for a home has been $147 million, which hedge funder Barry Rosenstein shelled out last year for an East Hampton address, followed by $146 million for a Cap Ferrat villa.