why Lee Radziwill and the high-society ‘Swans’ are back in vogue


As one of the most feted fashion icons in the world up until her death in February this year, Lee Radziwill knew how to draw a crowd. She continued to do so on Thursday as her belongings went under the hammer at Christie’s New York, fetching $1.26m and attracting buyers from 27 countries, according to WWD.

Among the most popular lots were family photo albums featuring Radziwill and her sister Jackie Kennedy on their trips to West Pakistan and India in 1962, which fetched $32,000 and $50,000 respectively. Also peaking interest was the artist Peter Beard’s Running Giraffe, which sold for double the estimate at $60,000, handpainted Spanish retablos sourced for Radziwill by the interior designer Renzo Mongiardino that sold for $40,000, and a Taffin amethyst and tsavorite garnet ring, which went for $25,000. The top bidders remained anonymous.

Lee Radziwill and Jackie Kennedy in Karachi in 1962. Photograph: AP

The auction comes as interest around Radziwill’s elite social circle is in vogue. A close friend of the writer Truman Capote, Radziwill was known as one of his “Swans” – the group of elegant high-society women he surrounded himself with, references to whom have recently been appearing on catwalks, in novels and TV shows.

The wardrobe of Babe Paley, said to be Capote’s closest confident, will feature in a book to be published next week called The International Best-Dressed List: The Official Story. She also provided inspiration for the Lanvin show in Paris last month and was the inspiration behind the costumes for Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Georgina Hobart in the new Netflix release The Politician.

There is also renewed interest in Capote himself. A new documentary, The Capote Tapes, will be screened at the Doc NYC film festival next month. It explores the possible whereabouts of chapters from Answered Prayers – the book that includes the infamous chapter La Côte Basque, 1965, which Capote published in Esquire in 1975. It revealed the Swans’ innermost secrets, prompting Radziwill, Paley and the group to cut ties with him.

That this season’s most popular group of influencers don’t have an Instagram account between them is a part of the appeal, says the art historian Tony Glenville. “It’s anti-Kardashians,” he says, adding that the new fascination with this group of well-heeled women is “a backlash against Photoshop and fillers. The Swans weren’t actually beautiful but relied on style, dressing well and poise. Not surgery, fillers and Botox.” Glenville highlights that in an image-saturated world, privacy – like that so closely guarded by the Swans and betrayed by Capote – is increasingly becoming a new luxury, making them modern poster girls. “Just as Madonna is saying no phones and filming at her shows, [is] the new chic no pictures? There’s a new interest in privacy and discretion.”

The Swans’ revival also coincides with an increasing number of models in their 40s, 50s and 60s appearing on the catwalk and in fashion campaigns. “It’s about older women being visible in fashion,” says Glenville, referencing the return of the original 1990s supermodels, along with Erin O’Connor, 41, and Jan de Villeneuve, 74. “We need some class acts in the world right now.”


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