Before there was Paris Hilton, there was Cornelia Guest. Armed with patrician stock and some wicked ’80s bangs, this New York golden child was the quintessential debutante throughout the decade of decadence. True, she was a socialite who was more or less famous for being famous—and yes, in her heyday, she liked to party with the best of them.
But Guest seems to have survived her reign as NYC’s premier party girl relatively unscathed, and these days, it’s her love of animals (not the gala circuit) that’s taking centre stage in her life. Although, as the former Andy Warhol darling recalls, this profound love of all sentient beings has always been a part of her DNA. In fact, it’s the basis of some very early childhood memories.
“I just remember rescuing birds,” says Guest, who sat down with the Straight at Holt Renfrew (737 Dunsmuir), where she was promoting her latest lines of vegan handbags. “I would have these little hospitals. So if they fell out of their nest, I would try to bring them back with feeders. It was quite the drama and then I’d have these big funerals for them.” Not surprisingly, she turned to vegetarianism at a very young age.
“I decided I wasn’t going to eat animals,” says the blonde PETA-friendly designer, “but at that time, the doctor was like, ‘She needs protein.’ So I would go on these starvation things—you know, every parent’s nightmare.”
Fast-forward a few decades and she’s eating as she pleases and designing a premium line of cruelty-free handbags that she names after pets past and present. For example, her best seller is the Nicolas Weave Satchel ($425). This classic slate weekender is made with recycled PVC and looks so luxurious, people often mistake it for real leather.
Another great staple in the collection is the large, black, fully lined Sebastian Corduroy/Patent Hobo ($340)—great for everyday use. In terms of sexy designs that give a nod to her once-famed nightlife, there’s the Large Iris Snake Foldover Clutch ($240)—a faux-python beauty can that take you right through the holiday season and beyond.
While her line is 100-percent leather free, Guest admits that her personal wardrobe is not. It is, however, 100-percent fur free.
“It’s not cool and hip and glamorous,” says Guest of people still rocking real fur. “When I walk into stores and see people working with faux, it looks fantastic.
“So I think that word is getting out that fur is no longer chic,” she continues. “In West Hollywood, you’re not allowed to sell it anymore—God bless those Californians.”
With all the recent success of her handbags, Guest has decided to expand into the shoe-making industry. But don’t expect to see her fab footwear for another year or two, as there’s a lot more involved in this particular fashion venture than she had originally anticipated.
“It’s been a learning experience, as this has been too, so it’s been wonderful,” says the blond, multimillionaire heiress. “I never dreamed I’d be doing something I love so much, so I’m lucky.” Not to mention committed to her cause.