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11.30.09

Pauline Bonaparte: Dead Cool

Napoleon’s hot, profligate sister shagged like a man, shopped like a Madoff, and wooed a Borghese. The Daily Beast’s Simon Doonan breaks down her many splendors.

There is no celeb today who is as horny, outrageous, and spend-aholic as Napoleon Bonaparte’s gorgeous sister Pauline. She makes Kim Kardashian look like Anne of Green Gables. She makes Victoria Beckham look like she took a vow of poverty and abstinence. Simply put, Pauline was a one-woman walking, talking, shagging, shopping, drop-dead gorgeous tour-de-force.

Let’s dial back.

Pauline was cool because, in an age when women were treated like mules, she was a liberated, self-determining, pushy broad who called the shots and the shags and the shekels.

Pauline was born in Corsica in 1780 with an itch to scratch. By the time she was Miley Cyrus’ age, she was already married to an über-butch army general named Emmanuel Leclerc. A friend of the groom’s described Pauline as, “ a singular mix of all that was most complete in physical perfection, and most bizarre in moral qualities. Although she was the most beautiful person one could imagine, she was also the most unreasonable.”

When her husband was shipped off to Haiti to quell a slave rebellion led by the fabulously named black rebel, Toussaint l’Ouverture, Pauline kicked and screamed and refused to go to. Napoleon solved the matter by ordering his officers to stuff her into a litter and carry her aboard by force.

After two years in the tropics—the new bride kept boredom at bay by strapping on her husband’s subordinates—General Leclerc caught the yellow fever and kicked the bucket. Teflon-Pauline survived, of course, cutting off her hair and flinging it into her husband’s coffin in a tabloid-friendly gesture of grief.

Time is a great healer. After a nanosecond of mourning, Pauline returned to society and the important task of mesmerizing le tout Paris with her fabulous and outrageous behavior: When she needed a foot-rest at the opera, she discovered that the neck of her lady-in-waiting was exactly the right height. When she felt too languid to schlep down the hall for her daily bath of fresh milk, she hired a large black dude named Paul to carry her, and keep track of her loofah.

In August 1803, she hit the mother lode and married Prince Camillo Borghese. She moved into the Borghese Palace in Rome and swanned about in transparent-ish frocks striking Grecian attitudes. Adorned in the famous Borghese diamonds, she was able to achieve a long-held goal: to triple-snap and upstage her sister-in-law, the Empress Josephine.

Pauline hated Roman society and her husband turned out to be more interested in wearing her clothes than tearing them off her body. On one of her many fun-seeking trips to Paree, she lingered in Florence long enough for the great Canova to capture her likeness in one of his marble masterpieces. The resulting Venus gives woodies to teenage boys in the Villa Borghese to this very day.

When it came time, at the age of 44, to pop her cloggs, cancer-stricken Pauline looked fearlessly in a mirror and said, “I am not afraid to die. I am still beautiful.” Work it out, sister!

So what, you may well ask, was so cool about this sociopathic self-serving bitch of yore? What was so great about this beauty who was so promiscuous and gynecologically ravaged that doctors eventually resorted to putting leeches on her lady-parts?

Pauline was cool because, in an age when women were treated like mules, she was a liberated, self-determining, pushy broad who called the shots and the shags and the shekels.

Pauline was cool because, when Napoleon was disgraced and exiled, she, in sharp contrast to her other siblings, stuck by little Shorty and gave him her worldly possessions. When he was finally captured after the battle of Waterloo, he had Pauline’s precious Borghese diamonds in his carriage.

Lastly, and most importantly, Pauline was cool because, she shopped her brains out and supported the fashion designers—and the retailers!—of her day. She was the world’s first stimulus package! We could use her right now to give this holiday shopping season a kick up the bum.

Plus: Check out Art Beast for galleries, interviews with artists, and photos from the hottest parties.

Writer, fashion commentator, and window-dresser Simon Doonan is known for his provocative Simon Says column in The New York Observer. He has written four books: Confessions of a Window Dresser , Wacky Chicks , a memoir entitled Nasty and a tongue-in-cheek style guide entitled Eccentric Glamour to be published in paperback in mid-April. Nasty is to be re-released as Beautiful People .  A comedy TV series entitled Beautiful People , produced by Jon Plowman, will debut on LOGO in May.