Lee Radziwill was a princess, a tastemaker and of course the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Her passing last year at the age of 85 symbolized the vanishing world of the American aristocracy. And yet, Radziwill defied categories. She was both old guard and bohemian, equally at ease with royalty and rock stars.
The world got a chance to see how this style icon lived when the Collection of Lee Bouvier Radziwill went up for auction at Christie’s in New York City late last year. From books to bijoux, étagères to writing tables, these pieces were collected over a lifetime. Each offered a glimpse into her fascinating life as a socialite and designer — an adventurous life that witnessed a momentous era in American history.
Once married to Polish Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill, Lee was one of Truman Capote’s “swans,” the term he used to describe his inner circle of stylish, wealthy female friends. So it’s no surprise that the furnishings in her Upper East Side apartment reflected that cool elegance. The white tufted sofas and ottoman were tailored and perfectly pristine. But it’s the carved wooden camel with its French gilt-metal collar that provided a hint of panache.
The princess found the sculpture in Rome, where it was once part of an 18th century crèche scene. A testament to her wit and originality, the piece prompted spirited bidding at auction, selling for some $33,000. “I’m constantly falling in love with objects, and they follow me around the world,” Lee told Architectural Digest in 1975. “I abhor the American idea of starting with a tabula rasa every few years and getting rid of everything. When I buy something, I do so with the intention of keeping it forever.”
That passion extended to the color pink. Various shades of plum and raspberry adorned her homes from London to Paris to New York City. It’s a color crush that began with her wedding china from her first marriage to publishing exec Michael Canfield in 1953. Featuring a phoenix with flowering branches, the two-part porcelain dinner service sold for $10,000.
And while the stylish host welcomed heads of state, she was just as comfortable mingling with artists like Andy Warhol at the Factory. During the summer months, she would head to the Hamptons, where she spent time with rocker Mick Jagger and artist Peter Beard. Also up for auction were several of Beard’s Africa photographs, annotated in ink.
But it was the smallest pieces on the auction block that felt most personal: blue rhinestone button earrings by Kenneth Jay Lane. An Yves Saint Laurent evening clutch. And three pairs of her trademark oversize sunglasses by Giorgio Armani, Roger Vivier, and Dolce & Gabbana. Fetching a cool $3,750, the grouping represents perhaps the ultimate Bouvier accessory.