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Edith Bouvier

- words by Hannah Slapper, styling by Alice Cuffe

The twist in the tale of Edith Bouvier is that there were two of them: mother and daughter. If you don't recognise their name, then you might recognise their estate, the iconic Grey Gardens, a subject of numerous documentaries, films, songs and synonymous with a certain time in America's social, cultural and political history.

Edith Bouvier and her daughter, Edith Bouvier, who will henceforth be referred to by their usual titles, 'Big Edie' and 'Little Edie', were part of a privileged family, whose wealth allowed them to purchase the beautiful Grey Gardens estate, so named for its misty and mystical aura, and romantic colour scheme. While Big Edie pursued a gentle singing career, Little Edie and her brothers grew up surrounded by opulence and opportunity.

Tom Wargacki Archive
Little Edie with some stray cats in one of their derelict rooms at Grey Gardens

Little Edie's cousin was Jacqueline Bouvier, who was soon to become Jacqueline Kennedy, and it was these political high-class monied people who were in the same social circle. As a teenager and young adult, Little Edie was a keen socialite and had a particular interest in fashion, coming out as a debutante on New Year's Day, 1936, in a luxurious silver appliqued white dress with a floral wreath of gardenias in her hair. She was such an instant hit that The New York Times wrote about it, and soon she was working as a fashion model for Macy's. However, her real desire was to be a performer and singer just like her mother.

Edith Bouvier Beale
Little Edie in her youth, showing off her model's figure.

Various dramatic events ensued, including a messy and cold divorce with her parents, leaving Big Edie alone and without funds to live in, and maintain Grey Gardens. Although Little Edie tried several times to kick-start her life, running away to Palm Beach, moving to New York to find a husband, trying to get into show business, and allegedly having a passionate affair with the US Secretary of the Interior, Julius Albert Krug, she ultimately decided that she belonged at the side of her mother.

Together the two women lived in an often psychologically and physically unhealthy atmosphere, letting the house go to ruin, hoarding, taking in stray animals and winding each other up to the point of breakdown. Little Edie suffered from alopecia in her late thirties, losing all of her body hair, and took to wearing brightly coloured and patterned head scarves that would become her signature, and added to their eccentric reputation. However, their overwhelming love for one another caught the interest of film makers Albert and David Maysles, who made a documentary about their lives in 1975, following the attempts of Jacqueline Kennedy, who was now the First Lady, to renovate Grey Gardens and ensure it adhered to health and safety standards.

Edith Bouvier Beale at Grey Gardens in East Hampton, New York - September 1, 1972
After getting alopecia, Little Edie's signature look was a headscarf.

This film was such a powerful and tragic tale of two misfits, that it soon became a cult classic, and the Edie mother-and-daughter duo were launched into the limelight once again. In 2009 another film was made about their lives, but this time plumped out to be slightly more dramatic. Drew Barrymore played little Edie, while Jessica Lange portrayed her mother. They both brilliantly captured the fun carefree wild sides of both women, and their drawling, dry sense of humour.

Drew Barrymore as Edith Bouvier in Grey Gardens
Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange in Grey Gardens, the 2009 film.

If you want to give the ultimate ode to this daring duo, then why not emulate their unique sense of style? Mix the derelict with the downright opulent: rich furs and embellished accessories with understated jersey tops and vintage headscarves.

Grey Gardens style

1. Salvatore Ferragamo, Flower Print Scarf; £229, motilo.com
2. Manzoni 24, Fur Coat; £6,278, motilo.com
3. Erickson Beamon, Pearl & Crystal Large Multi-strand Bracelet; £880, motilo.com
4. Norma Kamali, Mio Underwired Bandeau Swimsuit; £360, motilo.com
5. Tory Burch, Isidor Embroidered Silk-organza Dress; £520, motilo.com
6. The Row, Antonella Knitted-cotton Top; £380, motilo.com
7. Michael Sucsy, Grey Gardens; £15, motilo.com
8. J.W. Anderson, Paint Brush Print Skirt; £818, motilo.com
9. Barneys New York, Alyson; £221, motilo.com
10. Marni, Faceted Abstract Insect Brooch; £160, motilo.com

Have another idea? Create your own style.

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