Princess Ira von Fürstenberg talks taste
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My personal style signifier is my oversized tinted glasses. They were handmade for me by Franco Calò in Rome, but they no longer make them, and I am terrified of losing them. For me, style is about wearing the right thing at the right moment, which can be difficult. Many people overdress or dress down. It’s difficult to find that middle way.
The last thing I bought and loved was a little Hermès Kelly bag in pink leather: very simple but very pretty. It goes with so many colours – black, brown, blue. I think it’s quite versatile, because it’s not so much an evening bag as a day bag that you can use at night.
The place that means a lot to me is Strobl near Bad Ischl in Austria, where my family had a shooting lodge that my father loved. It was built by my grandfather, who was one of Emperor Franz Joseph’s ambassadors in Brussels, Madrid and St Petersburg. In the summer the imperial court went to Bad Ischl, so my grandfather built this house to be near to the emperor.
And the best souvenirs I’ve brought home are handpainted plates from Abidjan in the Côte d’Ivoire. They cheer me up.
The best gift I’ve given recently is two Josef Albers paintings to my son, Hubertus.
And the best gift I’ve received is probably an apartment in Rome that was given to me by a lover. But the most amusing gift I ever received was a wedding present when I married Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe in 1955. It was from Fiat, which was owned by my mother’s family [the Agnellis]; they gave me a Cinquecento that had been specially made for us. It was red and came gift-wrapped with a big bow.
My favourite room in my house is my bedroom in my home in Madrid, where I have an apartment in a former monastery in the Latina district, one of the oldest parts of the city. I have a rosewood Louis XVI writing desk there that belonged to my grandfather. I particularly like the way the ormolu handles catch the light. I use it to do my correspondence, and I keep family photographs on it – of my mother and father, and my sons Kiko, who died 17 years ago, and Hubertus.
The beauty staples I’m never without are red lipstick – Tom Ford’s Scarlet Shock – over which I put Chanel Rouge Coco lip gloss. And for a quick cream blusher, I use Sisley’s Phyto-Blush Twist in Passion – you can apply it anywhere.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Diane de Beauvau-Craon’s memoir, Sans Départir. Like me, she was a great friend of Karl Lagerfeld. She was born a few years after me. She spent part of her childhood at the Château d’Haroué, the 18th-century estate that belonged to her father, Prince Marc de Beauvau-Caron, who was a great connoisseur of the arts. Her maternal grandfather was the Bolivian tin tycoon Antenor Patiño, about whom she has all sorts of stories. She spent a lot of time in New York during the ’70s and ’80s: she worked for Halston and partied with Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe.
The podcast I’m listening to is… Podcast? I don’t even know what that is.
My style icon is Gloria Guinness, who was a great friend. She was one of Truman Capote’s Swans and she was fantastic – very, very beautiful. She could wear anything and look great. I remember how impressed I was when I saw her wear a white shirt with a black fan. She was divine. She had a lovely apartment in Paris full of Louis XVI furniture, and then an amazing rustic but chic house in Acapulco that had concrete floors. She also had a beautiful mansion in Palm Beach between the sea and the lake: the two halves were linked by a tunnel that ran beneath the road. Her style was unique.
The last music I bought was a duet by Mina and Alberto Lupo, “Parole, Parole”. I adore Italian love songs.
I have a collection of 18th-century Austrian coffee cups. I’ve got about 50 and they are very pretty, in lots of different colours with gold leaf. They look so colourful if you’re serving coffee on a tray after dinner.
In my fridge you’ll always find Coke Zero and Emmental cheese.
In another life, I would have been an actor. I did some acting for a time during the ’60s and ’70s. I was sitting next to Dino De Laurentiis on a plane in 1966, we started talking and he put me under contract. My first film was called Matchless, a spoof spy thriller with Patrick O’Neal and Donald Pleasence. My father reacted very badly – it annoyed him that I undressed on screen. I had to explain to him that my acting did not have the same power to make people flock to the cinema as my body. After that I worked in fashion: I was president of Valentino’s fragrance business, I helped Karl Lagerfeld in the early days and I had an antique shop in London. Now I make little objets d’art, but acting was my passion.
The thing I couldn’t do without is Stilnox sleeping pills. I have been using them for 30 years and everybody tells me my mind will go, but I love my Stilnox. It is the only thing I can’t live without.
An indulgence I would never forgo is pasta with tomatoes. I am a true Italian.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a very light primrose-yellow shawl embroidered with flying beetles, which I found in India. I was staying at Ananda in the Himalayas and on the way back I stopped in Delhi and discovered this charming little shop, Sanduq.
An object I would never part with is a Golconda diamond that used to belong to [Napoleon’s consort] Joséphine de Beauharnais, in a ring given to me by my father. I had it reset by Bulgari about 30 years ago.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is David Hockney. I love his use of colour. I think he’s light and fresh.
My favourite building is the Palais-Royal in Paris. It has this quality of being almost like a salon. It’s very beautiful and it’s at the centre of a great city – the Louvre is next door. I don’t know if the shops work so well but they are charming all the same, and I love the apartments above.
My grooming guru is a make-up guy called Tani. He’s Neapolitan. He’s really marvellous, he makes you glow. He’s especially good for photographs and if I have a special event, such as my belated 80th-birthday party at the Duke of Alba’s palace in Madrid, he is a must. The only problem is that he lives in Naples, so you have to have him come, which costs a fortune, but he’s really good.
The work of art that changed everything for me is a group rather than one particular work: the impressionists. That period is fabulous, and the paintings are so lively, so happy. They seem to burst with an appetite for life and a capacity for joy.
When I need to feel inspired I go to Marrakech, India or Nepal. The Himalayas are so beautiful, and I have bought a lot of things carved in jade and lapis lazuli there. They give me ideas for the decorative objects I make.
The best bit of advice I ever received was to learn how to say no. But it is a lesson I never mastered.