There comes a moment in everyone's life when one's cup runneth over. Mine overflew on the afternoon Princess Ira of Furstenberg, with an extremely elegant young man dancing attendance, waltzed into our lavish Hôtel Royal Monceau suite in Paris, in the middle of the shooting session for the Paloma Picasso pictures you see here.
Now, in case you think one photographs Paloma the way the Press Association pool designate does Fergie & Andy on the steps of Buck House ("Give us a smile, Fergie... click-clack. Could you kiss her, sir? Click-clack. The ring! Show us the ring! Click-clack. That's enough now. Click-clack. Thank you"), let me tell you there were fifteen people in that suite already, discounting the odd white-jacketed waiter wheeling in at regular intervals what looked like half the Czarist Russian Court silver laden with triple-layered club sandwiches, seven deep. We'd been at it since morning.
There was Paloma, of course, padding barefooted about the suite in a big white Royal Monceau terrycloth robe, in between her top-to-toe Alaia-, Chanel- and Saint-Laurent-sheathed apparitions for the shots, looking just as cool and composed as if the surrounding madness was a perfectly normal occurrence, which to her it was, and had been for years. And then, among the cameras, pancake make-up, rouge pots, arc lights, nine huge silver pots of coffee, clothes, Manolo Blahnik shoes, red-and-black Paloma Picasso scent press kits, petits fours on paper lace napkins, hair rollers, little heaps of casually discarded jewelry on the side tables, Louis Vuitton suitcases, quilted leather Chanel handbags, and little complimentary Royal Monceau sewing kits, there were:
The photographer, Richard Horton; Richard's assistant; Cosmo's art director, Denise Barnes; Deborah Bennett, the English PR for Paloma's new scent; Isabelle, the hairdresser from Carita's; one make-up girl also from Carita's; Paloma's high-powered French PR, Francoise Dumas, a charming, understated woman who can throw a ball at Versailles as easily as you organise a spag. bol. dinner-party for five in Fulham; an assistant of Dumas' laden with Saint Laurent boxes; another assistant equally laden with Chanel boxes, who manned the suite's telephones relaying Paloma's questions like "Ask Karl [as in Lagerfeld] whether he'll be in New York on Monday"; Paloma's chauffeur; an executive from l'Oréal, the French cosmetics conglomerate who produce and distribute the scent; someone from the hotel's staff; Paloma's husband, the exiled Argentine playwright Rafael Lopez Sanchez; and myself.
Wait, wait, wait, there was also Paloma's 7-year-old English bulldog Martha, distinguishing herself by being the only living creature in the suite not on a diet, and who binged on the sandwich mountain we'd been practically tying our hands behind our backs not to touch. The famous line "you can never be too rich or too thin," variously attributed (like all good quotes) to jet-set heroines from the Duchess of Windsor to Jackie O. may not be in the line of what Paloma Picasso would say; but she's certainly having a good shot at living by it. And - are you ready for this - she doen't even look like she's trying. Trying hard, anyway.
The first thing to know about Paloma Picasso is that she's extremely nice. At 35 (which she has been looking for the past ten years, and will go on looking for the next twenty,) weighing all of 7 1/2 stone for her 5 ft. 5, with her dark eyes, beautiful wide mouth, Velasquez infanta-white skin, and queenly posture, she looks striking, and could get away with quite a lot, even discounting her parentage, money, talent. She however remains unfailingly soft-spoken, with a nice, soft sense of humour; obviously well-balanced - no mean feat for the illegitimate daughter of the century's greatest painter, who couldn't legally bear her genius father's name until she was 11, but spent all her summers at his house in Mougins, among family friends called Jacques Prevert and Marcel Carné and Simone Signoret and André Malraux; pursued by photographers and autograph hunters everytime they ventured out for coffee; and whose special case (and her brother Claude's) prompted a major 1960 French law reform granting illegitimate children the same rights (name, inheritance, etc.) as legitimate ones.
This afternoon, she is polite to waiter, photographer and L'Oréal big shot alike; apologises to Patricia, the make-up girl, for having done most of her work already (Patricia prononces the job almost perfect, and does little more than dab a little powder here, a little shadow there, accentuating but not changing Paloma's expert handiwork) and to us all for being two hours late this morning. She was at Saint-Laurent's, she says, trying on every dress they'd prepared for the session.
Which leads us to the second thing to know about Paloma (it helps explain the first.) She is a perfectionist. Having signed a very fat licensing scent contract with L'Oréal, for what is usually referred to, in respectful terms as "a major undisclosed sum" (meaning seven figures at least,) she could have done a Sophia Loren. (Remember "Sophia", the scent of the year before last? No? Don't worry, neither does anyone else.) A few afternoons of autograph-signing on Selfridge's ground floor, two and a half minutes of Breakfast TV, cash in your check and addio.
Not so Paloma. If her name was to be on the bottle, what was in it had better be top-rate. It did take her quite a bit of very quiet fighting and striving to become Paloma first, Picasso next. The last thing she'd want is compromise that hard-gained, carefully composed image. She once told me how she had discovered the particular shade of the red lipstick she always uses, with the kind of earnestness one associates with major ethical choices, and at the time, it seemed a pretty frivolous concern for that obviously intelligent, cultured woman. Buch such single-mindedness bears fruit: in none of her activities of the last ten years - theatre costume designing, jewelry designing (for Tiffany's, the New York jewellers, who are opening a Bond Street boutique, featuring her range, this summer), patronage of the arts, and even, nay, especially her jet-set, fire-and-ice, style-icon modelling stints - did she ever smack of spoilt amateurism. No swim-suit designing, Vanity Fair cover girl, one-time-lucky pop singer Princess Stephanie she.
She was therefore very much involved in the creation of the scent, and drew the bottle herself, after a design she once used for pieces of jewelry from her Tiffany collection. She and her husband carefully checked the advertising, the pictures, the interview schedule, the promotion tours - there were lots of promotion tours, of the "if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Saks- Fifth-Avenue, Albuquerque, New Mexico" type - everything down to the typeface on the invitations for the Paris launch party.
"I'm sure the L'Oréal people didn't expect me to be so demanding, so finicky," she says with a smile. The L'Oréal exec and hubby Rafael both react to this with soft noises and gentle babble, to the effect that she isn't finicky, nott-at-t-tall, she just likes a job well done. A little while later, while Paloma is back in the suite's drawing room being photographed in the red Saint Laurent dress, someone mentions to Rafael a request for an interview and a picture session for a new American magazine. "What do they mean, a collective cover shot?" he asks. "Paloma and three other women together? No, no, no, no, no. That won't do at all. And the circulation is not good either. Let them ask again when they are well established. I mean, how many first pictures, how many first issues can you agree to do? It's all very well to help struggling friends, but one's got to draw the line somewhere."
Although Rafael Lopez Sanchez, the 37-year-old Argentine playwright whom Paloma met in 1973, married in 1978, and of whom she says: "he is really the only man who ever mattered in my life," still writes critically well-received plays and articles (always with a friend, co-writer Javier Arroyuelo), he has taken on the full-time management of her "image" and her career as well, advising her with theatrical flair. He is a slight blond man with South American courtliness and an easy smile, impeccably dressed in a beautifully-cut, waist-hugging, non-vented suit that shrieks Cifonelli for miles. Until democracy was restored, he hadn't set foot in Argentina since 1975: he took Paloma there, for the first time, last May.
Their meeting, as she tells it, happened fifteen years ago in the simplest possible way. "I was just out of university and had started doing some theatre costume designing, not a big job, you understand; and I liked his plays. So I asked some theatre people to introduce us. We got along extremely well from that first dinner."
What strikes you most is how undramatical her life seems, quite at variance with her looks, and family history. She reminds you that she's French - never set foot in Franco's Spain - and that her mother, the talented artist Francoise Gilot, left Picasso when Paloma was 4, and went back to Neuilly, Paris's South Kensington, in a house near her very bourgeois parents. (Funnily enough, Emile Gilot, Paloma's grand father, owned a scent manufacturing plant, Les Parfums Gilot.) Every summer Paloma and Claude would travel down to the South of France, at Mougins, then Cannes and finally Vauvenargues. "I first realised my father was different when I was perhaps five, and people would come to him in the streets," she says. "I can't really remember not being the daughter of someone very exceptional. In a way it helps dealing with celebrity if you've started very young." She doesn't remember any awkwardness arising from her illegitimacy at school, but that too may have had to do with her father's fame. In Republican France, where intellectuals and artists are lionised, Picasso's status was roughly equivalent to that of an English Royal Duke.
Until she inherited one of the world's finest collections of Picassos, literally hundreds of pieces, after a protracted, immensely complex legal arrangement between Picasso's children by various mistresses and wives - not to mention the French State, who in lieu of estate duties took all the Picassos now exhibited in Paris's beautiful Picasso Museum in the XVIIIth-century Hotel de Salé - she was not, she says, rich.
"I was brought up normally, with not too much pocket money," she says, "which was a very good thing." On the other hand one should take her notions of normality with a grain of salt. She remembers for instance going at 18 with Manolo Blahnik, an old friend, for a week-end in England to "some friends' place in the country." They were late for lunch, and had to find their way to the dining room. "I thought, well, this is a nice country cottage. Then I noticed visitors and those velvet ropes closing off doorways." The "nice country cottage" was Woburn.
Like all bourgeois French girls, she was sent for "linguistic summers" to England, staying with the Millinaires and the Adeanes, escaping to London and the King's Road and Portobello Road, Sixties havens. (She dressed at the time, she says, "like a hippie," which you find hard to believe.)
It all makes for nice, safe recollections: the Neuilly Lycée, holidays in England, university at Nanterre near Paris (where the May 68 riots started, the year she was there) jewelry design school, a little bit of acting (she was the vampiresque Countess Bathory in Walerian Borowczyk Immoral Tales). It sounds a happy, elegant, untroubled life, and no doubt it was. But then Paloma tells about her drawing. As a child, she says, she spent a lot of time drawing. "My mother said 'well, she can draw, but all children draw. We'll know if she's really interested in drawing when she is 14.' Came my fourteenth birthday and I simply stopped, never picked up a pencil until I was 18." You wait for a comment but none comes.
She lives in New York these days, in a dramatic, splendid Park Avenue duplex penthouse, which she and Rafael devoted months to find, and two years to decorate. The result is splendid, a showcase of a place, with a mixture of Art Deco furniture, Regency looking-glasses, Venetian marble lions, ancient Egyptian and Greek pieces, and of course some splendid Picassos, although their display is by no means ostentatious, some framed drawings just propped up on tables, while two splendid oils dominate the drawing-room and Rafael's library. The colour schemes are bold, in typical Paloma style, yellows and reds and blacks. Right now, she doesn't own a place in Paris. This time, she and Rafael were lent a flat on Place Vendôme for a few days. "It's so lovely, we wanted to buy it, but the owner won't sell," she says. She sighs. You sigh. Fourteen people around you sigh. You wish the flat on Place Vendôme was for sale.
This is when Princess Ira erupts on the scene, mercifully saving it from incipient melancholy. Princess Ira of Furstenberg, once romantically linked to Prince Rainier of Monaco (they both denied the rumours) is an extremely handsome brunette, a tall, sunny woman, whose sunflower yellow silk dress exactly matches her mood. You've got to understand that Princess Ira lives at the Royal Monceau. (Wouldn't you if you could afford the room service?) So of course she had to drop by to say hello to Paloma, and hello to Rafael ("I seem to meet sooooo many Argentine friends these days!" she trills, and you can't help smiling because Princess Ira is an immensely good-natured person), and hello to Francoise Dumas who's also a friend, Francoise would. Princess Ira's beautiful young man politely kisses or shakes hands. Yet another waiter comes in through the open double-doors with coffee for 48. Paloma and Princess Ira talk about their recent stay at Biarritz' Hotel Miramar for the cure. Did we know that Farrah Fawcett, yes, Farrah is staying at the Royal Monceau too? (She's in Paris shooting a miniseries on the life of Beate Klarsfeld, the Nazi hunter, in which she'll play Beate, an inspired piece of casting.) "Farrah'll drop by later," someone says. "With Ryan?" someone else asks. I told you: my cup runneth over.
© Copyright Cosmopolitan (UK) & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 1987