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.