October 06, 2015
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Find a fabulous person and you are sure to find a fascinating answer to any question you may pose. All too often, these fabulous few are rarely quoted on the subjects that truly capture our curiosity. We would love your ideas of what to ask these Chicago celebrities in the future. Please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chicago’s Legendary Bandleader Stanley Paul: Coco Chanel From his piano at the Pump Room to his art deco aerie, Stanley Paul has set the tone for elegance in Chicago. A chance meeting with Coco Chanel gave his a lifelong definition of understated chic.
“Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I was traveling in Europe with the Xavier Cugat Orchestra, and my friend Romula, a New York Journal American fashion writer, asked if I wanted to meet Coco Chanel. All I could think of was that she was the lady who made the perfume that my mother wore, so I said fine.
Following a fashion show where I observed Madame Chanel from behind, my friend said that we were invited to her house and whatever I did, I was not to open my mouth.
Walking up her art deco stairway started my lifelong love of that style, and I copied that staircase in my first apartment on Wells Street. The crystal paperweights, the screens; I sat quietly in the back while Madame Chanel entertained my friend and quietly studied the chicest of surroundings.
My friend did the interview as we walked back to the Ritz, where I believe Madame Chanel was living at the time. And although Madame Chanel did nothing but nod her head at me and smile, saying just a word or two in French, I never forgot her.
I remember that she walked beautifully and had the legs and body of a young woman, and had very animated and expressive hands. Her face betrayed her years, but she will always be my definition of style.
As we parted, I remember Romula saying, ‘You have a lot to learn, kid.’ And I started my lifelong love affair with art deco after that meeting.”
Meredith Wood-Prince: “As editor of The Scout Guide, I love being the voice of the individuals who make our city so special. That these incredibly bright and talented business people have allowed me to tell their story is a terrific honor. If all local businesses closed, each city would look the same.”
Meredith Wood-Prince: Jonna Chewning Glorious Meredith Wood-Prince, pictured above, is editor of Chicago’s edition of The Scout Guide. She put Jonna Chewning, one of the darlings of Chicago Society for many years, along with her former husband Bill Wood-Prince, at the top of her list. The mother of three and energetic volunteer on the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, easily came up with her answer.
“The most glamorous woman I ever met is my mother-in-law, Jonna Chewning. She exudes confidence and kindness from every part of her body, and always has a smile on her face. She always looks perfectly put together, but is never a slave to trends or labels.
She knows how to dress for her body and looks gorgeous, whether she is in black-tie attire for the Casino’s 100th anniversary, or sitting with her grandchildren on the beach at Newport. She has a movie star quality about her and whenever she laughs, she lights up the room.”
Chicago Party Planner Extraordinaire Brian White: Desmond Guinness Little did Brian White, Chicago’s party planner extraordinaire and member of hereditary societies that stretch back to Charlemagne, expect when he was asked by legendary Irish preservationist Desmond Guinness to found the Junior Board of the Irish Georgian Society, that he and a small group of dashing young Chicagoans in their mid-twenties would be swept away to Leixlip Castle, County Kildare, and a long-lasting friendship would begin. Below, Brian, right, with Desmond Guinness and his daughter, Jasmine.
“In about 1992, Desmond fascinated an English-Speaking Union audience with memories of the Beistegui Ball held in Venice in 1951, which was surely one of the most opulent balls of the century,” Brian recalled. “He was about 20 at the time and escorted Daisy Fellowes, the American Singer sewing machine heiress and fashion icon.”
Desmond and Daisy mingled with the most glamorous people, including Diana Cooper, Barbara Hutton and the Aga Khan, all in masks, and the enthusiasm of the young guests for his presentation led to an invitation to visit Leixlip, the Norman castle filled with tapestries from Brussels and rare Chippendale furniture.
“We said yes immediately, probably surprising him that a group of young kids could take off like that, and soon we were seated around a fire in his drawing room, enjoying a very decadent luncheon with Desmond and his wife, Penny, and hearing about his aunts, the Mitford sisters,” Brian recalled. “It is not only those pale blue Mitford eyes that engage you right away, but his knowledge of the opulent balls and historic castles that are central to his world. Soon he had us off to visit Lord Rosse at Birr Castle, who took us on a tour of his private gardens, and to see the oldest telescope in Ireland, which he had in his possession.”
It was Guinness’s passion for Irish architecture that captured Brian, who has continued to be a leading board member of the Irish Georgian Society, as well as The English-Speaking Union and The Royal Oak Foundation, as well as a host of hereditary societies that captured his interest.
“In the 1950s, Desmond and his first wife, Mariga, the former Princess Marie-Gabrielle of Urach, founded the Irish Georgian Society because so many castles were being demolished. Soon he was speaking around the world. He is such a fine man and would come to Chicago regularly for our parties, staying out with us until 2 a.m.,” Brian said. “Now his son Patrick and his daughter, model Jasmine Guinness, have joined Desmond as determined preservationists.”
Thanks to Brian’s own glamour and hard work, the Chicago connection is better than ever.
When just 120 distinguished international supporters of the Irish Georgian Society were invited to Castletown House, Ireland’s largest and oldest Palladian castle, which Desmond bought to preserve it from a developer’s wrecking ball, the guests, including Brian and 25 others from Chicago, gathered in the historic Pompeian Room for an unforgettable party.
“All the family was there, including Jasmine, who had recently interned for Christie’s in Chicago and lived with Rosie O’Neil,” Brian remembered. “Celebrating with the Guinnesses is always the greatest pleasure.”
Artist and Accomplished Chef Cynthia Olson: Grace Kelly Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, Tennessee Williams, Luciano Pavarotti—royalty of every arena have locked eyes with the glamorous artist and chef Cynthia Olson and engaged in fascinating conversation with Chicago’s superb raconteuse.
When asked about a particular moment with an unforgettable person, Cynthia’s mind flew to Monaco and the day she first met Grace Kelly.
“It was the day before the Grand Prix in 1972 and my friend, the legendary driver Roger Penske, invited my husband Chuck and me to a dinner, where I was seated by a man whose name I didn’t catch,” she recalled. “He asked me if I would want to meet his sister, and thinking I was being witty, I said, ‘Not particularly.’ He soon explained that he was Jack Kelly, and that his sister was Princess Grace.”
The next day Cynthia, Chuck and Roger were greeted by a butler at a magnificent tent constructed at the Grand Prix finish line, where only Princess Grace, Prince Rainier and their children had gathered to watch the race.
“You could say that the butler was the best dressed of all of us, but Grace appeared subtly elegant, definitely beautiful and very warm, even humorous,” Cynthia said. “She was very pleased we had friends in common, and could see that I am not awestruck around celebrities. She invited us to a party the next day. She was among the most fascinating people I ever met because she was so effortless and friendly despite her royal position.”
To Cynthia, Prince Rainier seemed not as outgoing, but very nice, and little Princess Stephanie, in blue jeans and a leather jacket, was great fun and tomboyish.
Cynthia continues to travel the world, making fascinating her friends through her own warmth and ability to deliver stories in her signature and amusing style. Most recent destinations? San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for the winter, and Venice.