"The great danger for an American woman married to a Frenchman is to become too French. To assimilate too much of another nationality weakens you. Though on the surface I might not seem to be 100 percent American, I have tried to remain as shaggy inside as possible."
Biography of Pauline de Rothschild
She was born Pauline Potter at 10 rue Octave Feuillet in the Paris neighborhood of Passy, to wealthy expatriate American parents of Protestant background. Her mother was Gwendolen Cary, a great-grand-niece of Thomas Jefferson, Potter was a member of several families that were prominent in the American South since the 17th century.
In 1930, in Baltimore, Maryland, Pauline Potter married Charles Carroll Fulton Leser (1900–1949), a grandson of one of the city's leading newspaper publishers. He was also an alcoholic and a homosexual. Soon after their marriage they moved to Majorca, Spain, but they separated in 1934, and divorced in 1939.
After she and Leser separated, Pauline Potter was romantically involved with a number of prominent men, including Paul-Henri Spaak (a Prime Minister of Belgium), American diplomat Elim O'Shaughnessy (1907-1966), French horticultural heir André Levesque de Vilmorin (1907-1987), Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch Romanov of Russia, and producer-director Jed Harris. For a period of years she also was the lover of Isabelle Kemp, an heiress to a New York drug-store and real-estate fortune.
In the early 1930s, Pauline Potter worked as a personal shopper in New York City, acting as a fashion advisor to wealthy socialites too busy to shop or too unsure of their personal style. Later, after moving to Spain with her first husband, Pauline operated dress shops on Majorca. She also worked for the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli in London and Paris and often was seen in society columns dressed in the firm's latest creations.
In the early 1940s, Pauline Potter and a friend, Louise Macy, a former editor of Harper's Bazaar, opened Macy-Potter, a short-lived fashion house, in New York City. The firm was bankrolled by a monetary settlement from Macy's former lover, millionaire John Hay Whitney, who had left her to marry Betsey Cushing, a former daughter-in-law of President Franklin Roosevelt. Though Macy-Potter's first (and only) collection was a critical and financial disaster, Potter went on to design a collection for Marshall Field and later to direct the custom-fashion division of Hattie Carnegie, the New York fashion company, succeeding Jean Louis, who left in 1943 to become chief fashion designer for Columbia Pictures.
Pauline remained at Hattie Carnegie for nearly a decade and was known professionally as Mrs. Fairfax Potter. Among her clients were the Duchess of Windsor, automotive heiress Thelma Chrysler Foy, actress Gertrude Lawrence, actress Ina Claire, and prominent others. She also designed the women's costumes for John Huston's Broadway 1946 production of No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, starring Ruth Ford and Annabella. The gown she designed for Ford is in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
Potter also worked briefly as an uncredited fashion model. One assignment for Harper's Bazaar had her posing in the latest Grecian-style gowns for the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe.
On 8 April 1954, Pauline Potter became the second wife of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the owner of the fabled French winery Château Mouton Rothschild.
This second marriage transformed her, not only from Pauline Potter the stylish woman to Baronesse Pauline de Rothschild the style icon.
All of her early years of modelling, styling, selling and designing clothes had developed and nourished her sense of style, and now, as a Rothschild, she had the means to acquire and wrap herself in cloths of her style, the couturiers like Balenciaga, Courreges and Saint Laurent who are able to accommodate her needs, the venues to show, and the presses and photographers to immortalise "le style Pauline".
In more than a decade, she transformed herself into one of the most elegant women in the world, and in 1969, she achieved the highest honour a society lady could have: She was admitted to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, the only woman that year, alongside elegant men like Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Cary Grant, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
But "le style Pauline" was much more than how she dressed, or how she carried herself, it would increasingly mean the way how she decorated her houses in Paris, London, and Bordeaux, Chateau de Mouton.
Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Pauline's second husband, a descendant of the Rothschild banking dynasty, was a race-car driver, a screenwriter, a playwright, a theatrical producer, a film producer, a poet, a wine maker, and a famed playboy. In fact, Pauline was only one of his mistresses for many years before their marriage, but after they got married, the Baron read, wrote and translated poetry with his wife, and provided her with a stage--Chateau de Mouton, for a woman of taste, energy and determination like Pauline, to act out the best role in her life.
With the help of her husband, Pauline de Rothschild renovated the war ruined estate of Rothschild in Bordeaux into one of the best wine museums in the world. A big project that took years, it showed her taste more than all the dresses she worn during those years.
If Chateau de Mouton which was designed as museum was Pauline's grand stage given to her by her husband, where family history as well as culture heritage needed needed to be considered, then their apartment in Paris and flat in London were more like her playground, like Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon, where she can indulge much more freely her intimate and personal taste.
Pauline de Rothschild died on 8 March 1976, of a heart attack in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, in Santa Barbara, California. She previously had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone open-heart surgery for a deteriorated valve in 1975. Rothschild's health problems were exacerbated by Marfan's syndrome, a genetic abnormality.