Requiescat in Pace : Fleur Cowles

fleur-cowles

“I’ve worked hard,

and I’ve made a fortune,

and I did it in a man’s world,

but always, ruthlessly,

and with a kind of cruel insistence,

I have tried to keep feminine”.

 

Fleur Cowles (1908 – 2009) Associate editor of Look, celebrated editor of the famed Flair, renowned hostess, philanthropist, prolific writer, painter, inveterate bride, raconteur, well-heeled friend of the powerful and famous, unofficial ambassador, namesake of the illustrious Fleur rose and a true American original, is dead at 101.

 

flaircover

“I have an idea a minute.”
I’m a born idea myself.”

Fleur Cowles

 

Fleur made her way into the public eye as Associate Editor of Look magazine in the late 1940s, and made her distinct mark in 1950 when she published Flair magazine a publication that became a landmark in publishing. Initially dismissed by giants like Time who called it little more than “a fancy bouillabaisse of Vogue, Town & Country, Holiday, etc.,” Flair’s provocative design, enlightened feature articles, and sophisticated advertising layouts left an indelible mark on publishing history. Though the magazine had a limited run of one year due to its lavish production costs, a collector’s item, it remains one of the most innovative magazines of all time.

fleurcowlesflairfebruary1950

Flair proved to be her reward for that success. For her husband, Gardner (“Mike”) Cowles, scion of a well-known banking and publishing family, the million-dollar loss was money well spent. As Fleur later put it: “Whatever Flair lacked in longevity it made up for in publishing immortality”. For her “it became a lifetime passport; after Flair was born, Fleur and Flair were inextricably and permanently intertwined, and we have never been untied . . . it still opens doors to writers, painters and designers.”

 

Cowles_self

And open doors, it did. Through an advertising agency and film-production investment, Fleur was known abroad as “America’s Million Dollar Girl,” cutting quite a figure in the New York of the 1950s. Dominick Dunne described her as “sleek and stylish. She had a smile that she didn’t save just for the important people, and a throaty sort of speaking voice, and whatever scent she was wearing was memorable”. She had developed, as she herself put it, “a mythical reputation”.

Beaton_Fleur

Fleur Cowles with Cecil Beaton, circa 1950

A reputation that endured throughout the years, culminating in her anecdotal memoir, “She Made Friends and Kept Them,” published in 1996. It was rumored that the title originated from an interview with a woman reporter who posed the question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” Cowles’ reply, “She Made Friends – And Kept Them.”

Never one to let a good idea pass by, Fleur turned her quip into the title of her book, a virtual Rolodex of many of the world’s most recognizable names: American presidents, foreign heads of state, Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth the Queen Mother (described as her “best friend”), Princess Grace, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lady Bird Johnson, Pope John XXIII, Howard Hughes, Judy Garland, Joan Miró (who designed her dresses) and Cary Grant, the best man at her wedding to her fourth husband, Mr. Meyer (pronounced to rhyme with “clear”).

cowlesdrawroom

Fleur Cowles Drawing Room

Upon marrying the last of her husbands, her life was based in England, with an apartment in Albany, off Piccadilly, and a cozy farmhouse in Sussex (where Cary Grant was to spend one of his honeymoons and where in the garden “many times we’ve seen Margot Fonteyn leaping from stone to stone in something akin to a private ballet”).

In the mid nineties, Fleur gave a description of her friend the Queen Mother that might well have applied to Cowles herself: “Her energy astounds, her stamina amazes, and her curiosity is still as lively as ever.”

What a marvel, what a life, what a profound loss.

 

 

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~ by eaesthete on 06/09/09.

4 Responses to “Requiescat in Pace : Fleur Cowles”

  1. It was a good run.

  2. Hi EA, did you see the obit in The New York Times? Its’s a good read, you can see it online.
    BB

    • Hi Bart,

      Actually I did, although when it comes to obits, I find the Guardian always has the juiciest of tidbits. The Brits are such a wonderful contrast, no? Just the right blend of decorum and dish.

  3. I’ll have to look that up!!

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