A friend recently gave me the most interesting book about Marie Antoinette: To The Scaffold, by Carolly Erickson. To borrow my friend’s description of the book, it is gripping. Although I knew well the history of the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette’s sad fate, I found myself on the edge of my seat as I turned each page. But one central figure that I had forgotten about until reading this book was Yolande de Polignac, one of Marie Antoinette’s closest friends and confidantes. Polignac’s close relationship to the Queen brought Yolande and a whole host of Polignacs great wealth and power, which in turn led to much resentment among both the nobility and the average Parisian. A controversial figure, Polignac eventually fled to Switzerland, escaping the wrath of the Revolution.
What a coincidence, then, that I found a 1978 Architectural Digest article about another Polignac: Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac (1918-2011). Like Yolande, Ghislaine courted controversy. While married to Prince Edmonde de Polignac, Ghislaine engaged in affairs, including one with Duff Cooper, who, at the time, was also involved with Gloria Rubio (later Guinness) and Louise de Vilmorin. Recalling a party given by Gloria, where all three girlfriends were present, Cooper likened it to a ball in Balzac: “Everyone looking at everyone in suspicion.” Later, after Ghislaine divorced Prince Edmonde, she was befriended by the wealthy American socialite, Rosita Winston, who generously flew Ghislaine to New York, where Winston treated her to a new Dior wardrobe. The only glitch was that just prior to a party they were to attend, Winston walked in on Ghislaine in bed with her husband. Later, at the party, a furious Winston proceeded to tell everyone about her discovery, before putting Polignac on the next plane back to France. Naturally, a gleeful Cecil Beaton wasted no time spreading word of the scandal to everyone, including Lady Diana Cooper, who responded: “I’m awfully sorry for her. True, in 100,000,000 Americans she was foolish to pick Mr. Winston, but poor girl to have to crawl back to Rheims, tail gripped between those ungovernable legs. Humiliation.”
Back in Paris, Polignac settled into an apartment at Hôtel Lambert and pursued a career in public relations for Galeries Lafayette and Revlon. Later, she moved into the apartment you see here. Decorated by her friend, Baron Fred de Cabrol, the apartment was a jewel-box, both in size and appearance. Intended as an elegant backdrop for entertaining, the apartment’s salon was dramatically lavished in red, reminding the article’s author, Philippe Jullian, of “a box at the Opera.” Taking heed of her friend Christian Bérard’s advice, “You must always be careful to mix many different shades of red,” Polignac and her decorator selected velvets and tapestries in a range of reds to accompany those richly colored walls. By contrast, Polignac’s bedroom had a much lighter and more feminine feel. Even this room was a testament to Polignac’s energetic social life. In addition to the numerous invitations tucked into her mirror’s frame, there were also framed seating arrangements for her many dinners, charmingly sketched by the hostess herself.
Describing Fred de Cabrol’s skill at mixing Second Empire decorations with other periods in the Salon, Jullian wrote, “He is able to adapt the past to the contemporary scene…careful never to indulge in a purely period décor. Actually only serious collectors–or perhaps the nouveaux riches–will have rooms that are impeccable Louis XV or Empire.”
Like the Salon, the Dining Room was enveloped in red.
Ghislaine de Polignac’s bedroom with evidence of her active social life. Note the attendees to one of her dinners, which she commemorated with an illustrated seating chart seen above: The Prentice Hales, Robert de Balkany, Paul Louis Weiller, and Baron de Rédé.
All photos from Architectural Digest, January/February 1978, Pascal Hinous photographer.