The Horse Rider's Journal

C.Z. Guest

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There is no doubting the remarkable life and personality of C.Z. Guest, a woman known for her unsnobbish approach to people, her great sense of style, and her love of horses and gardening.

Photography MICHAEL MUNDY & ELVIN MCDONALD Text MARLENE TOLDBOD JAKOBSEN / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.8

“Her hair, parted in the middle and paler than Dom Pérignon, was but a shade darker than the dress she was wearing, a Mainbocher column of white crepe de chine. No jewellery, not much make-up; just blanc de blanc perfection… Who would have imagined that lurking inside this cool vanilla lady was a madcap, laughing tomboy?” These are the words of Truman Capote, describing his long-time friend, the fashion and society icon C.Z. Guest.

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Born Lucy Douglas Cochrane on 19 February 1920, she grew up in high society Boston. CZ was her childhood nickname, coming from “sissy” from when her younger brother was unable to pronounce the word “sister”. After her debut in society, she went to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actress, before marrying Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, a renowned polo champion of blue-blood heritage and old American money, in 1947. The wedding went by without the big shenanigans one would have expected from a couple of their social standing; instead they had a small ceremony in Havana, Cuba, in the home of Ernest Hemingway, with the famous writer himself as the best man.

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The Guest family resided at Templeton in Old Westbury, a 28-room estate on Long Island, New York, where C.Z. became infamous for her hospitality as a hostess of grand get-togethers. Among her frequent guests were Diana Vreeland, Barbara Hutton, Oscar de la Renta, Joan Rivers, Cecil Beaton, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Salvador Dalí, whose portrait of C.Z. was one of the many paintings that hung throughout the estate.

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Besides throwing extraordinary parties, C.Z. was also well known for her sense of fashion, which she succinctly summed up with these words: “I like the classic look. Keep it simple. There’s only so much you can wear.” Her favourite brands were Mainbocher and Givenchy, and in 1959 she was included in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. Even after being diagnosed with cancer, losing her hair while undergoing chemotherapy, she wore elegant scarves on her head; and when her hair grew back, she wore it as it was, short and blonde.
She was on the cover of Time magazine in 1962, a rare achievement for women in those days, photographed by Horst P Horst, looking magnificent in full equestrian gear in front of Templeton. Besides a pool, a tennis court, and paddocks, the grounds of Templeton also had a 17-stall stable, housing C.Z.’s beloved horses, a passion she shared with her husband, and riding gear was part of C.Z.’s daily uniform. She rode every day, practicing her show jumping skills or just riding the trails surrounding Templeton on her homebred Opium Thoroughbred. “When I was young I didn’t want to be Helen Hull or Elsie Woodward. I wanted to be on my own horse every morning or competing at the Devon Horse Show,” she said.

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Overall, C.Z. Guest was the lover of everything living, and her garden was no exception. She published three books and many newspaper columns on gardening before her death in 2003. She was renowned for her flower arrangements in nearly every room at Templeton, and when Jackie Onassis died, C.Z. made sure to show up at her Fifth Avenue apartment with a bouquet of Jackie’s favourite flowers, peonies, to place by her casket. There was no limit to her caring and embracing personality, and as Diane von Furstenberg remembers:
“What made her even more special was her generosity of heart, her kindness, and her simplicity. Nothing about her was fake or phony. She was real class, real woman, real mother, real friend, real beauty. There will only be one C.Z. Guest… the real classy American Beauty.”•

© C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon by Susanne Salk Rizzoli New York, 2013