"I never saw her not grab anyone's attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else."
– Bill Blass
We’ve made a habit of honoring iconic women each month on their birthdays, and while the list is vast, each has left an undeniable impression that carries on with their legacy. Such is true for Babe Paley. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in July of 1915, Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley was an American socialite and style icon, known by the popular nickname "Babe."
Soon after graduating, Babe began working as a fashion editor for Vogue in New York City. She was young, glamorous, and here she had access to all the designer clothes (which were usually given in exchange for her high profile image.) It was hard not to notice Babe. Time magazine voted her the world's second best dressed woman after Wallis Simpson in 1941 and she was on the Best-Dressed list fourteen times being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958.
Babe and her second husband, William Paley, took an elegant apartment at the St. Regis in New York where they hired noted interior designer Billy Baldwin to decorate. (Above: Babe shown in their St. Regis apartment.) The couple also spent time at their 80- acre property on Long Island, Kiluna Farm. There, many landscape architects and garden designers helped to beautify the grounds.
Babe loved gardens, and had a very specific idea of what she wanted at Kiluna Farm. Initially, she felt the garden “lacked mystery” and was too “constricted and enclosed.” She wanted a secret garden feeling to the space, and with the help of Russell-Page, the garden she had imagined was created. Henry Francis du Pont and Thomas Church also had a hand in the design.
The architecture of Babe’s “Secret Garden” featured oak trees, dogwoods, rhododendrons, and tulip poplars. One of the first things they did was clear out a dell and plant a “punch bowl” (an oval pond surrounded with grass) in order to create a focal point. The outer frame was then planted with groundcovers, flowering trees, and shrubs. The previous garden had beautiful Japanese azaleas that were replanted nearby.
Babe Paley was on the best-dressed list fourteen times before being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. She remains a fashion icon with impeccable style and a lasting legacy. In the words of her friend Truman Capote, "She was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect."
Happy Birthday, Babe!