She has romped in Morocco with the Kissingers, the Cronkites, La Liz and the late Malcolm Forbes. She has frolicked with Princess Di, Princess Caroline, Ivana Trump, Karl Lagerfeld, et al. She wouldn’t miss Swifty Lazar’s Spago smash or Walter Annenberg’s New Year’s Eve splash. She’s frightfully rich and even the most established socialites call her “friend.”
So what’s Betsy Bloomingdale doing in a place like this? (Namely, Orange County on Feb. 21, when she speaks for a paltry $2,000 at the Four Seasons Hotel on behalf of the Spyglass Hill Philharmonic Committee.)
This is the Best Dressed List woman who whips up lunch for fashion guru Valentino in her Holmby Hills mansion. This is the woman Nancy Reagan calls “Bets.” This is the woman, says Women’s Wear Daily publisher John Fairchild in his book “Chic Savages,” who attended “the $2-million affair tossed on the Cote d’Azur by Lily, wife of Edmond J. Safra, one of the world’s richest bankers, to celebrate the final redecorating of La Leopolda, a house built by Belgium’s King Leopold II for his mistress.” (The party tent was hurricane-proof, natch, and a French SWAT team--half a man per guest--protected the 300 party-goers.)
She’s used to the question. It does seem a little odd, Bloomingdale admits in her Lauren Bacall-like voice, that, with her high-octane social schedule, she’s flitting about the country talking to women in general about “Style: Everyone Has It, Anyone Can Get It.”
But she had to do something, she says, after the death of her husband Alfred Bloomingdale, the man whose family founded Bloomingdale’s department store in New York.
“I started this in 1986 after he died,” she says. “I wanted to have something to do.”
It was her neighbor, Eva Gabor, who gave her the idea. “Eva was always calling me up and saying: ‘Dahhhling! Am I too short to wear the white dress with the white shoes? Will white stockings be too much?” Gabor was continually inviting advice about fabrics, “asking me to help her choose a dress,” she says.
One day, the women were jogging near their mansions--"Eva in a beautiful pink jogging suit, me in a pair of old pants,” she says with a stylish giggle--"and Eva said, ‘You know, dahhhling, I always call you up and ask you these questions, but you know, you should do what I do--go across the country and speak to the ladies.”
She did it. She loves it. “They pass out across the country,” Bloomingdale says. “Here, nobody thinks anything about the fact that Eva Gabor is your neighbor or that you go to a party with Gregory Peck. But, across the country, they’re fascinated.”
Part of Bloomingdale’s personal style is that she wouldn’t be caught dead lecturing in her own back yard.
“I was asked to speak at the Beverly Hills hotel and I turned it down,” she says. “It’s too near home. Oh dear, the neighbors , you know . I’m timid about it.”
But the chance to speak to a few hundred women in Orange County--a place she dubs “a fascinating, growing community"--seemed like a good idea. “Especially for a group who promotes music for children,” she says. “I always make sure my grandchildren have music in the nursery. It’s so important.”
Darleen Manclark, chairwoman of the “Today’s Women” seminar which will also feature a lecture on relationships by Ellen Kreidman, chose Bloomingdale because she thought the socialite would not only impart insights about style but offer “something spicy.”
Manclark remembers reading about Alfred Bloomingdale and his alleged indiscretion with an unstylish kind of woman.
“I’m afraid they’re going to be disappointed,” says Bloomingdale. “There’s going to be no spice. I don’t get into that subject at all.”
In fact, Bloomingdale speaks with affection about her late husband. “He was an adorable man, always telling funny stories. There was the one about summer furniture. Someone wanted to return a broken sun umbrella and got so mad when Alfred told her she couldn’t, she told him: ‘What’s your name? If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll find out who you are!’ ”
No, she doesn’t own Bloomingdales, she says. “It’s been sold.” That is her most frequently asked question.
But yes, she owns a lion’s share of style. While she adores fashion, preferring Chanel and Adolfo, she says personal style has little to do with it and absolutely “nothing to do with money.”
Her signature fragrance is Diorissimo by Dior (“find a perfume that’s becoming,” she advises. “Many are not.”) and her hair is usually upswept, with a studied tousle. “Years ago I read about the Duchess of Windsor--who had the same hairstyle for years,” she says. “Though it got a little shorter or longer, it was always basically the same. I took from that. Find a hairstyle that’s becoming and stick with it.”
More of her style tips:
* “You can go into stores, and salespeople can help you, but that’s not how you develop style. It’s how you tie the scarf, how you wear the belt. It isn’t what you wear; it’s how you wear it.”
* “A lemon meringue pie can smack of style; style is a way of living.”