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09.22.10

A Supermodel's Shocking Reunion

What brought Stephanie Seymour and her magnate husband, Peter Brant, back together after an ugly divorce battle? Friends tell Jacob Bernstein it may have been money—and Brant’s hatred of losing.

For a year and a half, they were slinging it out in court in Connecticut, engaged in what was one of the ugliest divorces anyone had seen in recent memory, a real-life War of the Roses starring a former supermodel and her polo-playing $490 million husband.

She accused him of being controlling and cheating on her with hookers.

He accused her of cuckolding him and having a drinking problem that endangered their three children.

She, of course, is Stephanie Seymour, 42, muse to couture god Azzedine Alaïa and the star of numerous Victoria’s Secret campaigns.

He, of course, is Peter Brant, 63, real-estate magnate, paper company behemoth, and owner of Interview magazine.

On Sept. 20, the former couple was due in court to begin the trial that would decide how their assets were divided. Instead, they walked in hand-in-hand, announced to the judge that they were reconciling, signed a handwritten statement voiding all of the terrible things they’d alleged about each other, kissed their lawyers, and drove off into the sunset.

What on earth happened?

Publicly, friends of the couple just shrug and profess to be thrilled.

There’s Donald Trump, who says simply, “I’m very happy for both of them.”

And Bob Colacello, special correspondent for Vanity Fair, who says: “I’m really happy they got back together. It’s a little bit mystifying, but then so are most relationships unless you’re in them.”

Privately, however, several sources close to the couple point to the absence of a pre-nuptial agreement and the prospect of a lengthy, public trial.

“It was going to be so expensive,” says another friend of the couple’s. “I think Peter looked at the situation and saw that it was a far more attractive life to stay together than to break up. Peter loves his children and he wants them to grow up in a harmonious environment. It’s more than just love. It’s a family.”

“Maybe they’ve decided to be more European about this,” says one pal.

And certainly, that family would have been stuck dividing an awful lot of assets, as court records show. First is the couple’s Greenwich, Connecticut, home—estimated mortgage: $121,382 a month—a replica of Mount Vernon that features a giant horse farm, as well as a 43-foot-tall Jeff Koons topiary sculpture of a puppy that costs between $75,000 and $100,000 a year to maintain.

Second is the house in Sagaponack, where the mortgage is $15,199 a month.

Third is the spread in Palm Beach. The mortgage there is $11,034 per month.

Then there’s the art, which Brant values at $221 million. The collection includes scores of works by major contemporary artists, among them Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

And that’s to say nothing of the artwork Brant commissioned of his wife over the years, from artists like Francesco Clemente, Julian Schnabel, Maurizio Cattelan, and Marilyn Minter.

Both Minter and Cattelan actually poked at Seymour’s trophy wife status in their works. Brant didn’t seem to mind. He’d been smitten with her from the time he was introduced to her by the photographer Sante D’Orazio nearly 20 years ago.

At the time, he was married to Sandy Brant, who was the publisher of Interview magazine, which was owned by her husband.

In July 1995, after his divorce to Sandy went through, Brant married Seymour in Paris. According to The New York Times, Tony Shafrazi served as the best man, Azzedine Alaïa gave her away, and guests included Naomi Campbell and Robert De Niro. “It was beautiful,” says Kenny Scharf, another artist who was commissioned by Brant to do a portrait of Seymour. “Every supermodel was there. It was an event.” (The following year, the Brants had a stateside wedding in Palm Beach, Florida.)

With the marriage came all sorts of perks. The Connecticut property was 200 acres, and more than half a dozen people worked in the house. There were lavish vacations, trips to the Oscars, pricey artworks from Warhol, photographs from Avedon. When Seymour turned 30, Brant threw a spectacular party for her at their home. “I’ll never forget it,” says Colacello. “There was dinner on the veranda, and then you walked down the descending lawn to a tent for dancing and the Reverend Al Green was there doing his entire repertoire. It was incredible.”

And of course there were the children, Peter Jr., Harry, and Lilly.

But still, the couple grew apart.

In the divorce proceedings, the two exchanged accusations of infidelity as he brought up her problems with substance abuse (Seymour has confirmed going to rehab in 2000) and questioned why she shopped so much. In one unintentionally humorous section of the case notes, Brant is quoted as testifying about what he considered to be the excessive spending habits of his wife. “He said that he did not understand why she was paying full retail at Bergdorf’s when she could get clothes, at a discounted price, from the atelier in Paris of their friend, the designer Azzedine Alaïa, who Mr. Brant considers to be the best couture designer of the 20th century,” the notes read.

Was he just being cheap?

Certainly Brant’s businesses have been struggling. He made his fortune with a company called White Birch, one of the largest paper manufacturing companies in the U.S. But as the recession deepened and as newspapers and magazines began folding left and right, White Birch began to run into trouble with its creditors and wound up declaring bankruptcy last February.

As for the magazine company he owns—whose publications include Interview and Art in America—it’s been rocked by complaints from writers about missed payments.

But claims about Brant trying to hold on to his money at all costs go back at least two decades. Right around the time he first got together with Seymour, Brant served time for tax evasion. And he also has a reputation as one of the toughest negotiators in the art market. As he told The New York Times earlier this year: “My whole life I’ve hated to lose, no doubt about it. I’ve been guilty of that since I was 6 years old, at camp. I have always played to win. That’s who I am.”

Says one of the couple’s friends: “Peter is such a maneuverer. He almost always wins, and everything he does is based on being successful.”

To this person, as well as many others, it’s no surprise that he would try to avoid a horrible divorce that could cost him a substantial portion of his fortune.

Still, one pricey concession he will apparently be making for his wife and sometime courtroom adversary is a pad in New York. Shortly after Brant and Seymour announced their reconciliation, the couple ventured to Manhattan to look for townhouses on both sides of the park. As The New York Post’s Page Six noted, Seymour had been looking for real estate in the city for quite some time.

To Alyssa Pallett, a woman who claims to have been Brant’s mistress, the whole thing stinks to high heaven. “It’s just way too sudden,” she told the Post. “I think more likely, they worked out some sort of deal, like it was strictly business. That would be like him.”

She should know. In spring 2009 Pallett was given a job in the advertising department of Interview, as her Wikipedia page later noted. By the fall, she’d disappeared from the masthead. Not exactly a big payoff to a woman who has the ability to embarrass the magazine’s owner publicly.

Other friends of the couple say that Pallett’s view of Brant is simplistic, that lots of couples struggle with infidelity. Moreover, they say, financial considerations aren’t mutually exclusive of love and affection, or even a healthy amount of space. “Maybe they’ve decided to be more European about this,” says one pal. “You know, neither of them appears to have been that faithful, and this is a civilized way to deal with it.”

For now, the couple isn’t saying. Efforts to reach them through Seymour’s lawyers were unsuccessful, though the pair did issue a statement to Page Six about Pallett: She “knows nothing about our personal situation and her thoughts and opinions about us are meaningless.”

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Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.