Lee Radziwill, the society doyenne and style icon who ruled over American elegance with a taut chignon and perfect taste for half a century has died, WWD has reported. She was 85 years old.
Radziwill, the younger sister of former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis — and once one half of the most famous pair of sisters in the world — was born Caroline Lee Bouvier to stockbroker John Vernou Bouvier III and socialite Janet Lee Bouvier. From the beginning, family life was comfortable, but complicated. (There was her parents’ early, bitter divorce, when she and Jackie were 7 and 10 years old; the quick dissolution of her father’s wealth after a series of bad investments; and her mother’s high-profile remarriage to Hugh D. Auchincloss, once described by his stepson, Gore Vidal, as “a magnum of chloroform” — beyond which, Janet Bouvier is famously cited as rearing her young daughters on such bracing aphorisms as: “Weakness isn’t something you’re born with… You learn it.”) “When I was seven and we lived in New York, I ran away,” Radziwill once told Gloria Steinem. “I took my dog and started out across the Brooklyn Bridge… I didn’t get very far…. It’s rather difficult to run away in your mother’s high heels.”
Radziwill would go on to marry three times: first to publishing executive Michael Canfield, in 1953; to Polish aristocrat Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł, in 1959, with whom she had two children, Anthony and Christina; and in 1988 to the film director Herbert Ross. Her son Anthony died of cancer in 1999. Radziwill had been an actress, author, interior designer, P.R. executive, and tabloid fixation throughout her life — one who pal-ed around with the likes of Truman Capote and Rudfolf Nureyev, Peter Beard and Andy Warhol, and even went on tour with the Rolling Stones — though throughout, her particular restrained sense of style was paramount: Hamish Bowles described her in the August 2003 issue of Vogue as “the chic, sleek wraith whose fabled wide-eyed prettiness and brisk elegance has defined dynamic American style for decades—and still turns heads.”
Her homes, from Paris to New York, were no less arresting, having been multiply photographed for the pages of Vogue — a den draped in Turkish textiles, an entrance hall hung with 18th-century floral prints, a bedroom anchored by a dramatic pink canopy bed. “I don’t know if you’d say cluttered,” Radziwill told Vogue of her Manhattan apartment in 2003, “but it’s extremely full. So it’s wonderful to have the contrast [in Paris] of having it totally Zen, totally peaceful. In what other city do you find doves outside your window?” André Leon Talley told Vanity Fair in 2016 that Lee fully took to heart Diana Vreeland’s famous dictum: “Elegance is refusal.” The “lack of clutter, the choices of things to put on the wall,” Talley said, “it’s all done with care and love of that objet, a sense of editing — editing her clothes and editing her friends and editing the menus for dinner. And she edits people. She edits herself. She edits her wardrobe. She edits her life.”
“Regrets? I think everyone has regrets, and people who say they haven’t are either liars . . . or narcissists” Radziwill told the New York Times in 2013. “There have been many things in my life to have regrets about, in the sense I wish I could have changed them, or somehow made them not happen. What I don’t have is envy. I’m perfectly content at this time of my life. I’ve done so many fascinating things and the greatest joy is that I continue to do interesting things and meet fascinating people.” Later in the same interview, she added “when I was young, I used to think that everyone should die at 70 . . . but my closest friends, like Rudolf and Andy [Warhol] and to an extent Capote, let alone most of my close family . . . didn’t even reach that age. There is something to be said for being older, and memories.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com