The extraordinary Cornelia Guest first came to my attention in middle school in the ’80s, on the pages of any number of fashion magazines. We were living in upstate New York at the time, so the glamorous young woman posing with the likes of Andy Warhol and other legends of the era made my friends and I all hope breathlessly of being just like her. After all, her father was a world-class polo player, her mother the socialite upon whom all other socialites based their dreams, and Cornelia herself probably qualified as the first “celebutante” even before the word mashup became part of American parlance.
More correctly, she was the “Deb of the Decade” feted by Andy Warhol, and some of the most famous artists, actors, writers and cultural definers of the 20th century, from Truman Capote to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (her godparents, by the way).
With that background, it might have been easy for the horse-loving New York darling to coast through life taking everything for granted. Happily, she opted to devote her life to responsible living – and in more recent memory she’s become a strong promoter and supporter of healthy eating and lifestyle, as well as an activist for animal welfare.
At present, the grown-up Ms. Guest published a successful cookbook, Cornelia Guest’s Simple Pleasures: Healthy Seasonal Cooking & Easy Entertaining, in 2012 after founding a vegan catering company. It all evolved, dare I use the term, organically, after she started baking vegan cookies for charity events that went over brilliantly. Now, she’s jumped into even more exciting waters as a member of “Team Guy” on the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cookoff. (Having met Guy Fieri myself while appearing on Drive Ins, Diners, and Dives, I can attest that he’s a blast to work with.)
She’s also launched a line of handbags – Humane Handbags – that, needless to say, meet the stringent requirements of a vegan lifestyle. Made with a buttery-soft faux leather, the stylish bags in a wide variety of styles can be found at Bloomingdale’s and other upscale retailers.
A long-time supporter of the Humane Society of New York, among other critical causes, Guest was recently named one of Donna Karan’s “Women Who Inspire,” was the face of PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked” campaign, and serves on the Mayoral-appointed Grow N.Y.C. board. She hosted New Yorkers for Marriage Equality’s 2010 flagship event with Mayor Bloomberg.
Most importantly for readers in the Nashville area, the fantastic Ms. G will be appearing tomorrow to lecture at the Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville. Now in its 23rd year, the Antiques and Garden Show just gets better and better – and if you haven’t made plans to get there, I recommend making them now (click on the link above for tickets).
At the last minutes, Cornelia Guest was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, so here’s a little quick Q&A to get you ready for tomorrow’s event.
What everyone wants to know is what it was like working with Guy and Rachael on Celebrity Cookoff? What was the best part of that experience and will we see you again on the show? They are both amazing, their knowledge of food was so inspiring – it made me a better cook. Of course, there were lots of laughs; I think I’m in love with Guy!
You’ve got quite an impressive background as an equestrian – do you keep up with those skills actively? No, sadly I don’t have the time, I miss my horses like crazy, but I do visit all my pals at different shows.
How does your work with animals and your commitment to a vegan lifestyle affect your personal style – both in terms of fashion and interiors? It makes me think about everything I buy, and about how to make it cruelty-free.
Who are your favorite pro-animal fashion designers? Besides myself, Stella McCartney
Bloomingdale’s carries your line of cruelty-free handbags, and it’s a newer line for our region of the country to be aware of – can you tell me a bit about your inspirations for it, and what we ought to know as buyers? Mother Nature is my inspiration. My line is affordable, chic, elegant and timeless – as well as an intelligent alternative to using animal products.
You’re a New Yorker – how much time have you spent here in the South and has it in any way influenced your sense of style? What about your culinary perspective? I used to go to horse shows and dine all over the place. I love the South – the accents and the fact that the people are all so kind. I love vegetarian bar-b-que, by the way.
You have a vegan catering business and a popular vegan cookbook out – which do you find provides your best method of sharing a vegan perspective and why? They both do, as I can use both as tools to educate people and to spread the word.
What drew you to veganism to begin with? Cruelty to animals. Factory farming is not only horrific beyond all imagination, but it’s ruining our planet.
In the 80s, you were the “deb of the decade,” always in the fashion mags and newspapers – has the time you spent in that limelight influenced who you are today? Who are the people in that era that remain your greatest influences? Halston, without a doubt is a huge inspiration and influence on me. His sense of style was just so simple and so elegant and fashionable. And after all he was the first to use ultra suede.
Can you clue us in on your next big project? Taking the Cornelia Guest Cruelty Free Lifestyle global!
The Fun Stuff
TV show: Scandal
Listening: Johnny Cash
Reading: Biographies and Hemingway
Jeans: Rag & Bone, J Brand
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate
Skin care: Biologique
Gadget: Blackberry and iPhone
Fragrance: Oils from Objets D’Art & Spirit in Los Angeles
Cocktail: Red wine
Restaurant: N.Y.C .– La Grenouille and Scalinatella; Los Angeles – Il Piccolino
Anything Nashville: Great music!