A pair of matching Vespas is not the first thing you expect to find at the front door of one of Europe’s leading royal families. But, as the electric gates swing back to let me into the London townhouse of Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, there, by the chic black-lacquered front door, stand two immaculate burgundy scooters: one for him and one for her.
If they were the property of any other young London couple, the bikes wouldn’t be of interest. But Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece, has connections to half the royals in Europe, with their golden carriages and bulletproof limousines, and his wife Marie-Chantal, the daughter of the DFS (Duty Free Shops) billionaire Robert Miller, is not unaccustomed to a life of personal chauffeurs and private planes. The fact that they whizz about the British capital on two wheels – posting Instagram photographs of themselves with their children on the back – tells you much of what you need to know about this most independent of royal couples.
As she leads me into the drawing room of their capacious Chelsea home, her petite frame clad in black J Brand jeans and a cream lace shirt, with Pierre Hardy pumps on her feet, it’s clear she’s no average princess. “Sorry about the cat,” she apologizes, removing a muddy-nosed creature from a cream chair and calling one of her five children to retrieve it. “It got stuck in a hole, and I haven’t had time to wash it yet.” The cat, though, is the only thing that’s not immaculate in the room. Cushions are artfully arranged on carefully placed sofas. Tight, round “trees” of single-color flowers adorn coffee tables. Photographs of the couple’s wedding – the biggest gathering of royals in London since the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1947 – adorn a polished grand piano. And on three of the walls hang Andy Warhol paintings: one that the artist gave her as a gift on her school graduation, and two which she posed for as a 16-year-old intern at his Factory studio in New York.
Working for Warhol was “one of the best experiences I could ever have had”, she says. “It was so much fun. It was the 1980s and the art world was booming, and he’d have me do everything: mix paint, serve lunch, run errands, go with him to openings and exhibits, and hang out with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I can’t believe my parents let me, to be honest – although I did have a 10pm curfew.”
Sitting for Warhol came about by accident. “He said to me one day, ‘Scarlett, would you like to sit for me?’ I called myself Scarlett then – who knows why. I didn’t like Marie-Chantal. I was 16 and trying to invent myself. Maybe it was after Gone with the Wind – I can’t remember. So I sat for him. My father, thankfully, bought the works, which was a good investment.”
Three decades later, she not only appreciates the name Marie-Chantal, but has created an eponymous business from it: a luxury children’s clothing range that has grown from a small line in a single London store to an internationally recognizable brand sold in more than 30 countries worldwide. When she launched in 2001 in New York, where she has a home, “friends [including loyal followers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Jessica Alba and Victoria Beckham] were very sweet and bought it. We did 18 options for girls, 12 for boys.” Today, she sells as many items online internationally as she does in her original store in the British capital.
“I think people crave the nostalgia of an old-fashioned childhood,” she says, praising the Duchess of Cambridge, whose wedding she attended, for helping to revive more traditional childrenswear. “They want gingham and stripes, and pretty dresses for girls, and beautifully cut classics for boys, whether they’re in a big city in Asia or on America’s East Coast. And lovely fabrics that aren’t scratchy and itchy.”
Her own mother, she says, has “immaculate taste” and bought only classical styles for her and her sisters, Alexandra von Fürstenberg (now a furniture designer) and Pia Getty (a filmmaker). “We lived in Hong Kong and she would take us to Europe to do our shopping for the year: toiles from Liberty,and kilts and cashmere from The Scotch House, in London; the remainder from Cacharel and Daniel Hechter in Paris.”
Even today, as a 48-year-old mother of five children, aged between nine and 21, Marie-Chantal still takes inspiration from her mother’s wardrobe – and borrows from it regularly. “She has great jackets and accessories, and some very good Chanel pieces. What’s funny is that Olympia [her 21-year-old daughter, currently studying photography in New York] is now borrowing my clothes. Our taste is multi-generational.”
Other than her mother, from whom she borrowed a navy Chanel couture suit to wear on the evening she met Prince Pavlos, the icons she was inspired by are all from a previous generation. “I know it’s a cliché, but it was women like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Birkin, whose style you don’t see so much today. It’s much more diverse and creative now: girls are mixing street style with high fashion, and pieces from Zara or Topshop. They might buy a designer bag, but that’s it, whereas when I was young and living in Paris in the 1980s, you were loyal to one designer. Mine was Karl Lagerfeld, then Valentino, who made my wedding dress [a pearl-encrusted gown that was rumored to have cost $225,000] and who has since become a friend. I love the way they nurture clients. There’s a real friendship there.”
If she had to pick two women now whose style she admires, it would be Inès de la Fressange, Lagerfeld’s muse, “who has such classic elegance, she could wear white jeans and a white shirt and look fabulous”, and Lauren Santo Domingo, “who’s great at being experimental and carrying off new brands”, and who carries Marie-Chantal’s line on her Moda Operandi online boutique. And designers? “Peter Pilotto, Erdem, Emilia Wickstead and Michael Kors.”
As you might expect from someone who regularly appears on lists of the world’s best-dressed women, attending fashion shows and shopping are a key part of her daily life. “The problem is the internet!” she exclaims, rolling her eyes. “I love shopping online and there are so many great places: Matches, Mytheresa, Shopbop for its jeans and T-shirts, Farfetch, Amazon… I can’t remember the last time I went and browsed in a boutique. It just doesn’t happen any more.”
Being much the same size as she was when she married 22 years ago means she can mix classics from the 1980s with new things. She stays trim by going to the gym or cycling. “Plus, I haven’t eaten carbohydrates for years, or sugar. If you add up how much sugar is in a diet, what with fruit and veg, and cookies and desserts, it really adds up, so I stopped completely. I try to stop the kids having sugar, too, but it’s a nightmare. Even juices – you really have to read the labels. It’s all hidden. Everyone should watch Food, Inc. and That Sugar Film. Then they’d cut it out completely.”
Two things she believes in, however, are fresh air and a good beauty regime. “My dermatologist advocates a regime of scrub, wash and moisturize, plus vitamin C and glycolic acid,” she says. “And it works.” As for the fresh air, she gets plenty of that on the family estate in Yorkshire, in the north of England, where they go most weekends. “Growing up in Hong Kong, I dreamed of space. Being able to enjoy that now is wonderful. I’m a mix of urban and country, I think.”
As are her customers – in her four stores, online shop and sales points around the world. Surprisingly, she says, it’s in Asia that classic dressing has had a particular resurgence. “There, the little girl or boy really represents the family status, so it’s important to dress them well,” she says.
Advice to focus her business eastwards has come from a trusted source. Her father grew his DFS and Galleria brands by targeting the Japanese consumer of the 1970s. “Today, it’s the Chinese,” she says, “who love not just luxury but lots of different new brands. It’s growing there like nowhere else.”
But really, she says, wherever they are, people of all ages like to look good. “It’s important to make an effort,” she smiles. “People appreciate it. Like manners.” And with that she gets up to make me tea, like the mannerly princess she is.
Above: Princess Marie-Chantal in the elegant London abode she shares with Prince Pavlos and their family (photo: Julian Broad/Getty Images)
The art of decor
The couple’s home is filled with art, including paintings of herself by Warhol, and of her children (photo: Julian Broad/Getty Images)
Marie-Chantal’s spring/summer 2017 collection for children includes lightweight suits for boys and cool tweed dresses for girls, each beautifully cut
Princess Marie-Chantal photographed in the garden of her London townhouse with three of her five children, wearing clothes from their mother’s eponymous range