What Becomes a Legend? What Does a Legend Become?

I have been reading about Wallis Warfield Simpson, aka the Duchess of Windsor.  She has become the strangest mosaic of pariah and icon that I can think of.  The resulting likeness, assembled over decades, resembles a Chuck Close portrait with an unsettling chiaroscuro; enigmatic, despite being composed of photographs, documentary evidence after all.

Less plausible as a queen than Camilla Parker Bowles (does anyone think of the one time Mrs. Parker Bowles as Mrs. Windsor, by-the-by?) and the transferee of enormous sums from the Brit royal family to herself (in one three weeks period,  jewels totalling 110,000  pre-war British pounds ) and the occupier of a position on the International Best Dressed list.

By any estimate, one of the most successful gold diggers in history.

She was, of course, a perfume wearer, but if you go on the celebrity website and read her choices, all of them seem rather – anonymous.

She wore the famous stuff, a mixture of L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko (one wasn’t enough?) and she wore Jean Patous and then when she was old she wore Estee Lauder.

This makes sense.  At heart she was an American and from an old WASP  background, so why wouldn’t she wear the perfume of upper-middle-class America? No reason, so Estee and Private Collection it was.  I think that what she really needed by that time was Youth Dew (which, in fact, she did wear).

What’s missing from the composite portrait?  A sense of what Wallis really liked. You can’t help guessing that she wore what she was supposed to wear, what rich ladies wear.  There was nothing in the least eccentric about the list.  Nothing you wouldn’t expect like, say, Floris, Malmaison or Caron’s Tabac Blond, which by all accounts would have suited her.  She didn’t even wear Bandit, which would have been entirely appropriate under the circs.

Well, in the end perfume is ephemeral.  Wallis didn’t want things that evaporated, stuff that could blow out the damn window!  No, what Wallis wanted were jewels.  Cartier panthers and flamingos, Wallis wanted diamond clips and emerald bracelets.  A kiss on the hand could be quite continental, but Wallis knew who a girls’ best friends were.  She sacrificed freedom, and reputation, and love too in the end, for a pile-up of the finest Harry Winston’s et al. could show.

Despite the royal family’s best efforts – notably Lord Mountbatten’s – she never returned them, either.  They were auctioned off in a memorable sale that fetched over fifty million dollars.  Well, where her treasure was, so must her heart have been, she certainly wouldn’t have wanted it squandered on a love life and bottle of Apres L’Ondee.

Truth be told, she wasn’t a Romantic at all, even if the world mistook her for one.



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6 Responses to What Becomes a Legend? What Does a Legend Become?

  1. Sigrun says:

    Thanks for this post and Hi! I’m Sigrun and I do check in on your blog every now and than but I don’t think I’ve commented before. I just saw “The Kings Speech” about a week ago and I felt very curious about Wallis Simpson, such a synchronization to read about her here :) Actually, I find the whole gold digging mentality intriguing. Wonder if there are any books about it, like “Golddiggaz through the ages – the biggest and baddest”, that would be a good before-work-read for the bus, giving me some massive female role models to think about as I go about my day ;)

  2. Mals86 says:

    I have long been a fan of the green floral, and upon googling for “green floral” came across a mention of the defunct house (CURSE YOU CLIVE CHRISTIAN!) Crown Perfumery’s Crown Bouquet, described as “the greenest of all green flower gardens.” Reader, I bought a bottle unsniffed. And then when it arrived, bought two more (approximately $27 a pop, dumped on the clearance market CURSE YOU CLIVE CHRISTIAN! except maybe not to hell because I couldn’t have afforded three bottles at its pre-discontinuation price) because I lurved it to little teeny pieces. It is a big green slap of crunchy, juicy hyacinth leaves and marigolds and galbanum, followed by the tenderest blend of white florals ever – jasmine and muguet and tuberose, if you can believe tuberose being sweet as a little fluffy bunny.

    And then I found that Crown Bouquet had been commissioned in honor of La Simpson herself. Which made me screw up the left side of my face and go WHUH? because jewelry-lusting golddiggers who have a kinky thing for power and fascist dictators are the last people who would ever wear this slap-of-greenery/tender-white-floral. My brain keeps going round in circles trying to reconcile Crown Bouquet with that knife-blade nose and those fiercely winged eyebrows and the sleeping-her-way-to-a-title. Still don’t geddit.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      The Crown Bouquet being created for Ms. Simpson was something I noticed as well. It really didn’t seem in character for her, I mean she was more of a JOY, it’s the MOST EXPENSIVE ONE, kind of an individual.Whereas what she should have worn, in my opinion (besides Bandit) was Indiscret!
      My Godmother, who was an old Baltimorean, said that Ms. Simpson had a fast reputation even in school, and was not considered a “nice” girl having sneaked off to meet boys after dark. Old gossip, and not so shocking now, but let’s be frank, Wallis seems to have liked sex and two timed Poor Old Edward even during the heyday of the great romance. Full circle to Crown Bouquet, in no way does it sound like something she would have enjoyed.

  3. fleurdelys says:

    “She sacrificed freedom, and reputation, and love too in the end, for a pile-up of the finest Harry Winston’s et al. could show.” – you talk as if that’s a bad thing! ;-)

    Nope, she wasn’t a romantic at all, “David” was the starry-eyed romantic, enough for both of them. She just played along. ~ Patty

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Hi Patty, Yes well, the best of Harry Winston’s is hard to walk away from, I admit. But I do feel sorry in retrospect for Edward the VIII. He looked like such a squashed cabbage leaf married to Wallis Simpson, and I think you’re correct in diagnosing the poor old boy as a romantic, what could have been worse for such a fellow than marriage to a cynic?

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