Monday, June 28, 2010

Love in the (hot) afternoon

Too hot, even for would-be park goers. 3:10 PM. Photo: JH.
June 28, 2010. In New York over the weekend it was hot and humid. The air becomes a light coppery-grey. If you’re approaching the city by car or plane you can see that Manhattan is enveloped in it, and from that view it’s not as grey as it is brown. The heat.
Diana’s children. Prince Harry of the House of Windsor was in New York and Connecticut. Polo. An appearance for UNICEF. Raising money for his charity. Harry’s cousin Princess Beatrice of York was here also, with her boyfriend, a young man named Dick Clark.

The prince was in New York and Greenwich to play polo. Is it just me, or does seeing those two boys always remind you of that embracing grace of their mother’s hand?

Last week, Harry’s brother, Prince William aka Wills was in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales with his girlfriend/fiancée Kate Middleton. They stopped in a roadside market to pick up some din. Din for The Man Who Would Be King looked to be: two frozen stonebaked-style pepperoni pizzas, a bag of McCain frozen chips, a head of iceberg lettuce, a bag of salad leaves, a bottle of Tropicana orange juice and two bottles of water – the bill came to £12.60 or a little over thirteen bucks.
The roadside market in North Wales.
As it turned out, Wills didn’t have any money when they got to the cash register. Lucky for her the girlfriend had a credit card. You see girls, it can even happen to a future King of England. We know he’s good for it though. Or at least Pop is. Not to mention Gramma.

The half-royal couple came in an Audi with Wills at the wheel. They were preceded and followed by security cars who are presumably paid by the Prince of Wales or the Queen.
Kate Middleton swiping her credit card.
Love in the afternoon. The most interesting news over the weekend (at least the news that wouldn’t make you want to kill yourself) was about Liliane Bettencourt, the 87 (or 88) year old L’Oreal heiress who has been having an intense friendship/relationship with a much younger man – by twenty-five years (he’s 63 this year) – the artist/playwright/photographer/international social gadfly and world class charmer Francois-Marie Banier.

The Mother and her friend the artist. Liliane Bettecourt, the world's 17th richest person, and photographer Francois-Marie Banier, the object of her daughter's law case.
Are they sleeping together, you ask? Is that something we really need to know? Or even want to know?

Chances are they’re not. But that’s only my definition of “chances.” However, whatever they are doing together (and this is the “intense” part to a lot of spectators), the heiress personally owns 31% of L’Oreal’s stock (her father, a chemist, started the company almost a century ago). She has given M. Banier a variety of gifts and promises of gifts (including art, insurance policies and a private island in the Seychelles) that tally up to more than $1.3 billion. And this is all without any nuptial promises on his part.

Madame Bettencourt’s net worth is somewhere around $20-$23 billion. And her annual income from the dividends on her L’Oreal stock is about $350 million per, or more than $30 million a month, or $670,000 a week.

Mme. Bettencourt has a daughter, an only child, about the same age as Francois-Marie Banier. In fact her name is Francoise; such a coincidence. And she thinks her mother should have her head examined giving all that money to this man; and as a result, she is trying to get the French courts to demand it back. Mother does not agree and the two no longer speak.

This all began at least four years ago when Daughter dear was getting info from maman’s butler, etc., who evidently taped all kinds of conversations that some people believe are proof that M. Banier is “taking advantage” of an old and mentally infirm woman.
The very young Banier with his friend Salvador Dali. Liliane and Andre Bettencourt.
Maman thinks that’s ridiculous; of course she still has all her marbles as well as her billions. “It’s my money and I can do what I want with it,” she said.

The couple have been friends since way back. He was also a friend of Madame’s late husband, Andre Bettencourt. The Bettencourts bought his art, appreciated his works and were friends, and among the charmed. Then M. Bettencourt died. Madame in her widowhood became a greater friend of M. Banier.

Her lawyer defending her, pointed out that she gives most of it away and what difference does it make who gets it – charity or individual – since it is her money. Oh, and she’s also already turned over 90% of her stock in L’Oreal to her only child (maman still gets the income).
The young author/artist/photographer with Yves St. Laurent. It was always rumored that Banier had come up with the name Opium for YSL's fragrance and for that was paid a royalty.
The artist as photographer. The photographer as party boy with Nicky Haslam and Paris Hilton.
Francois-Marie Banier and friends.
To the outside world, it may look like M. Banier is the classic example of “just a gigolo” (“everywhere I go; people know the part I’m playing”). That would be a mistake. The multi-tasking/artist/playwright/best buddy/connoisseur is quite famous in his world – the international world of the rich, the chic and the shameless.

It is a world that accommodates, even seeks out a man of his creative means , especially when he possesses the talent to amuse. Think court jester. That is not to say that M. Banier ever acted as court jester, but that he holds a prominent place in the courts of many princesses (and queens) of every ilk and stripe, and serves a similar purpose.
C'est la vie.
When he was very young he was a beauty and no doubt a desired one in that very same world. Beauty can be enough in youth but when it wears off (or down) as one matures, more is required. M. Banier had that more, and for him it provided a curriculum vitae that is always a ticket to ride (on the yacht or private jet). Balzac would have noticed. Proust would have been enchanted. Or at least jealous. Of course, the authors would have required a Madame in the story perhaps even more.

Clockwise from above: Marc Jacobs, as photographed by Banier; two of Banier's hit novels; the VF cover of Johnny Depp taken by Banier.
Theirs is a world of exchanges. Money, art, sex, and a good sleeping pill. We all know that. When a woman marries a rich man, the phrase commonly used (by even the most common among us) is “she married well.” Deposed royals do it whenever they have the chance, and are applauded, even idealized for it. Just like the luckiest (when they are) lapdancers at Scores. Get that that ice or else no dice.

Lilianne Bettencourt’s choices. She’s an octogenarian. 90 is either two years away, or never. She’s been rich all her life, with more than she can ever spend.

Francois-Marie Banier is ... to her, at her age ... a young man old enough to be sophisticated, who has lived a fascinating life, and much more fascinating than hers. He also knows “everybody” in a world of “somebodies” a world of luxury, convenience, aesthetic notions, aesthetic devices, and refined insensitivity.

After you have it all, that in itself is a bore. Arrogance mates with false authority, and stupidity ensues.

That is what is going on right now in Paris: a game almost as old as the oldest profession. Liliane Bettencourt said that jealousy could be the root of the conflict. “My daughter is more introverted then someone very sociable like François-Marie Banier. That’s a little annoying for her,” she said, adding a only mother’s punctuation, “But in the past she was always a cold child.”

Mother and Daughter. Liliane Bettencourt and Francoise Bettencourt-Meyer.
What Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers does have is money. Although it would seem her arch-nemesis, Mr. Banier, has everything else (and he’s not poor by any stretch). To her mother he’s a Renaissance man, a literary figure; everything. Here’s to dear old France, no?

Liliane Bettencourt in a rare interview with Le Figaro Magazine put it: "Fortune is an opportunity When one has received a lot, one must love giving – simply, without ulterior motives, without calculation, without waiting for a ‘return on investment.’ And thus to give back, freely to society a part of what one has received." Auntie Mame put it more succinctly for dear old Liliane: “Life’s a banquette and most poor suckers are starving.” In other words, LIVE while you can.

Banier is said to always have been naturally drawn to smart and interesting older women. Rich always adds zest, at least at the outset. He could do worse. Years ago he was accused of being the boy toy of artist Salvador Dali (he was a friend of Dali’s). He sued a newspaper over the inference and won, but the message served its purpose for his detractors.

Francoise Bettencourt-Meyer claims she is acting "in the interests of her mother" who has been "absolutely encircled" by "Banier and his friends". She has pledged that if she wins her case, she will give the £993 million she claims her mother has handed Mr. Banier in various forms, to charity. Just to show it’s not “the money” for her. Of course that would presume M. Banier would “return” the same.
Following photos by Francois-Marie Banier: Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis ... Johnny laid out.
Vanessa Paradis. Karl Lagerfeld.
The players and the posing.
Madeleine Castaing, another "old" friend of the photographer.
An ad for Diane von Furstenberg. The photographer as Artist.
It’s a dream comes true for the tabloids (even the Weekend FT this past weekend) and a tri-fecta for the lawyers who no doubt will get more than M. Banier might have ever dreamed of receiving, before this is over. Mothers and daughters duking it out over a younger guy of uncertain intentions.

Mr Banier’s lawyer may have put his finger on the matter in a statement.

“There is on the one hand a family wound between mother and daughter (my itals) - without doubt deep and longstanding -- and on the other hand, a marvelous story of friendship and literary and artistic partnership over the last 20 years (with Mr Banier). It’s not through legal proceedings that François Bettencourt-Meyers will resolve her family problems.”
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