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Baron Nicolas Louis Alexandre de Gunzburg (12 December 1904 – 20 February 1981) was an editor in chief of Town & Country and an influential fashion editor at Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

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Biography

Born in Paris to a wealthy ennobled Russian banking family called GĂĽnzburg; the umlaut was dropped and the aristocratic particle "de" added in the nineteenth century after they had been created "barons". His father was a Russian Jew, and his mother was Polish-Brazilian. The GĂĽnzburgs were, among other things, financial patrons of Russian dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his famed Ballets Russes in Paris during the first decades of the twentieth century. He was himself a patron of Vaslav Nijinsky until he was swayed by Diaghilev.

Raised primarily in England his later youth was spent in France. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, when he was just thirteen, had resulted in the confiscation of the family's property[1] and ended any possibility of a safe return to Russia. Living the life of a bon vivant in the Paris of the 1920s and 1930s he was popular with the artistic and social elite of Paris. He spent money lavishly, and the parties he gave included extravagant sets designed by architects and artists. His costume balls and parties of pre-war Paris were discussed not for the next week, but the next forty years.

Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg (who appeared under the screen name Julian West).


Carl Theodor Dreyer, the Danish film director, met him in Paris. This led to their co-production of the classic horror film Vampyr (1932) which used music, sound effects, and dialogue in an impressionistic way. Loosely based on the vampire stories by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu collected together as In a Glass Darkly, the hero 'Allan Gray' was played by Gunzburg under the screen name Julian West.

After the death of his father, Gunzburg learned the remaining family fortune was non-existent. Left with only the money he had in a checking account, he purchased his passage to America and used what was left to throw one last, great party in Paris- "Le Bal de Valses", and then set off for America. For this farewell he co-hosted a costume ball with his close friends the Prince and Princess Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge during the summer of 1934. "Le Bal de Valses", or "A Night at Schoenbrunn", had as its theme the Imperial Court at Vienna in the late 19th century.

Arriving in America in 1934 together with his friends Duke Fulco di Verdura and Princess Natalie Paley. Gunzburg settled first in California. He was one of many European émigrés who sought refuge in the growing colony of artists in Hollywood. Here he met Erik Rhodes, an actor, with whom he would live for a number of years after the Second World War. In any case, Gunzburg soon headed back east, this time to New York City, which was his home for the remainder of his life.

Gunzburg arrived in New York on November 10, 1936. True to his aristocratic and somewhat bohemian lifestyle, his certificate of Immigration from the French Consulate General in New York listed him as "sans profession", without profession. He soon became a fixture of the American fashion industry and would build a career from his impeccable and unerring eye for fashion. Slim, impeccably dressed, always elegant he looked the part and was often known as just the "Baron" or "Nicki" as he himself often wrote his name.

One Vogue writer described him as:

"A slender, attractive man with a really dry wit, a gift for mimicry, and a sharply developed taste for the simple but cultivated amenities of living."

Appointed editor-in-chief of Condé Nast's publication Town and Country in the early 1940s he soon extended his social circle which would include Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Lauren Bacall, the Nordstrom Sisters, Diana Vreeland, Coco Chanel, photographer Cecil Beaton, and the interior designer Billy Baldwin.

For many years a senior fashion editor of Vogue (he remained with Vogue over two decades through the 1950s and 1960s) and later a fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar. Alexander Liberman, editorial director of Condé Nast Publications, called Gunzburg "One of the most civilized men in Paris."

Gunzburg also was a mentor to three young fashion designers who would go on to dominate the industry. Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein – perhaps Gunzburg's most famous protegé (whom he met in the mid-1960s) spoke of him in an interview with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol in Interview magazine, published not long after the Baron's death:—

"He was truly the greatest inspiration of my life... he was my mentor, I was his protégé..If you talk about a person with style and true elegance-- maybe I'm being a snob, but I'll tell you, there was no one like him. I used to think, boy, did he put me through hell sometimes, but boy, was I lucky. I was so lucky to have known him so well for so long."

Recalling one of Calvin Klein's first major fashion shows his mentor said that immediately after the show, a nervous Klein sought out his opinions on his new designs, and on whether the event had been a success or failure. The response to his protegé, a wry assessment—chilly, but supportive and polite: "You showed great courage".

Eventually, the fame of Gunzberg's three protegés came to eclipse his own – indeed, they became household names, while Gunzburg was famous mainly within the circles of the fashion, literary, and social worlds of New York, London and Paris.

Having searched widely for just the right lake, Gunzburg was summer resident of Highland Lakes, in Vernon Township, New Jersey for the last twenty years of his life. He found and bought an island in Highland Lake which he called "Hemlock Island", constructed a causeway to the island, and built a summer house decorated and furnished with fastidiousness, which showcased his eye for the simple, austere and elegant. At the head of the causeway leading to Hemlock Island was a sign which simply said "N de G".

Gunzburg died at New York Hospital at 76 years of age. He was buried the following spring near his summer home in Glenwood Cemetery, with a small private service at which Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Calvin Klein were among the mourners.[2]

Legacy

References

  1. ^ The Baron, featurette on de Gunzberg in the Eureka Region 2 DVD of Vampyr.
  2. ^ Dupont, Ronald J, Jr. (1991). "Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg". The Vernon Stories of Jacobus Van Brug. http://www.vernonstories.com/. Retrieved 9 July 2006.  
  3. ^ "Nijinsky". TV Guide. 1980. http://online.tvguide.com/newsearch/detail.aspx?tvobjectid=126298&more=ucmoviereview. Retrieved 9 July 2006.  

External links

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