Doris Kleiner Brynner’s Legendary Chic
Two minutes into a conversation with Doris Kleiner Brynner and the first thing that crosses ones mind is that she should write a book. Most would agree it would make for a fascinating (and glamorous) read…her marriage to actor Yul Brynner, her best friend Audrey Hepburn (godmother to her daughter Victoria), and the time she met the Empress of Persia, Farah Diba, while watching the U.S.S.R. play Czechoslovakia in hockey at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.
Yet to call her legendary, let alone suggest her memories should appear in print, would be easily brushed off by Doris, who is down-to-earth and unpretentious in spite of her storied life...for Madam Brynner is a class act. Far from being content to play the role of the Hollywood wife in the background, Doris shaped her own destiny, carving out a career for herself that straddled the worlds of fashion, film and interior decorating. By the time the Chilean-raised Doris landed in Paris in 1965, she was already a sought-after model, photographed by Bert Stern for British Vogue.
She immediately won fans within the French couture establishment for her charm and beauty, and was celebrated for her style together with an international set of women who came to be known as the Swans. Not surprisingly this same group of women figured amongst her circle of friends that included Salimah Aga Khan, Gloria Guinness and Marella Agnelli (in addition to Hollywood luminaries such as Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow), who would regularly descend on her homes in Lausanne and Gstaad.
For this impressively stylish set, fashion…and getting dressed…was serious business, where each sartorial decision was carefully thought out following a set of unspoken rules. Images of these women from this period, impeccably dressed in equally impeccable surroundings, portrays an effortless sense of style that was in fact carefully calibrated down to the Japanese toothpicks in their Baccarat crystal holder. Nothing was left to chance, and every occasion required a precise wardrobe…handbags worn during the day were banished after sunset, watches were never to be worn with evening gowns, makeup was lightly applied, and hair was always neatly pulled back from the face.
A regular at Balenciaga, Doris was part of a rarified group of women for whom couture’s precise collars and hemlines formed a part of her daily wardrobe (she was particularly fond of Balenciaga’s expertly cut gloves…always in cream or white). “Those clothes fit to perfection, and every detail was exquisitely finished down to the loops and hooks on a gown,” recalled Doris, who would accessorize her chic couture ensembles with made-to-measure shoes at Roger Vivier, Cartier bags and Schlumberger jewels.
Yet Doris’ involvement with the Paris couture salons went far beyond that of a client. For decades, shrewd business minded couturiers would reserve certain positions within their houses (the directrice or head of sales and marketing) for connected style-savvy women who socialized in the same circles as their couture clients. Often of ‘good breeding’ or royal blood, (such as the Baroness Hélène de Ludinghausen at Yves Saint Laurent) they acted as style ambassadors for the house; appearing at dinner parties and social gatherings in a designer’s latest creations to entice future clients (a position requiring the discretion and delicacy of a seasoned diplomat). In the early ‘60s, Doris would play a pivotal role in supporting Valentino’s career when she began selling his couture dresses to an international clientele at the Palace hotel in St Moritz. Although she went on to play a similar role at Cardin and Chanel, she became a devoted friend and client to Valentino, and could be found seated front row at his couture shows beside her friend Audrey Hepburn.
In the following decades, Doris would continue to channel her impeccable taste and sixth sense for all things chic into an evolving career that included decorating the homes of friends and establishing La Veranda, her now infamous boutiques in Morges and Gstaad, Switzerland. They would become a required stop on the itineraries of stylish travelers passing through town, who came for her carefully curated selection of sophisticated and unusual objects sourced from artisans around the world. All that would end on the day she received a call from long-time friend American architect Peter Marino, saying she should expect to hear from Bernard Arnault. Having recently completed the redesign of Dior’s flagship store in 1997 to reflect the house’s new direction under John Galliano, Marino recommended her to Arnault to revamp the Dior boutique’s home and gifts department. Hired on the spot, Doris promptly moved to Paris (she now divides her time between homes in the French capital and Morges, Switzerland).
On the day we meet Madam Brynner (as she is addressed by Dior’s staff), we’re ushered through the store at 30 Avenue Montaigne; passing artfully displayed prêt-à-porter and accessories to reach Doris’ domain, Dior’s Home Boutique (with its own designated entrance off the Rue Francois 1er), over which she has presided for some 17 years. Her exceptional taste and eye is reflected in an elegant mélange of objects she commissions from a global roster of artisans. They include whimsical hand-blown Murano glass bowels and decanters in the shape of blowfish, hand-painted porcelain plates featuring Dior’s lily of the Valley motif, as well as delicate hand-embroidered napkins that must be specially ordered.
“We regularly ship items to clients around the world,” notes Doris, who has transformed Dior’s Home Boutique into a destination amongst chic circles in search of the rare and unique gift or a special item for their home. For them, no trip to Paris is complete without stopping by to say hello to Doris, a modest women who once noted “but why me?” when awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. Applauding her at the ceremony were long time friends Farah Diba, Princess Marie-Chantal and Prince Pavlos of Greece, Pierre Bergé, Georgina Brandolini, Lee Radziwill, Jacques Grange and Alain Delon; a fitting tribute to a woman Frédéric Mitterrand called a “symbol of chic.”
A regular at Balenciaga, Doris was part of a rarified group of women for whom couture’s precise collars and hemlines formed a part of her daily wardrobe.
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