My Life

Growing up in a clothing store, marrying an oil tycoon, palling around with Andy Warhol and Sir Elton John, hosting the grandest parties, wearing the chicest gowns, dining with princes and presidents, and other choice chapters from the fabulous adventures of Lynn Wyatt.
My Life
Lynn Wyatt, photographed in a Carolina Herrera dress at the Houston Grand Opera on January 23, 2009.
Photograph by Jeff Wilson

If there is one person who embodies Texas style, it is Lynn Wyatt. Tall and forever blond, glamorous without being pretentious, simultaneously sweet and shrewd, with arguably the most famous whiskey laugh in the world, she rose from a comfortable Houston childhood—her family started the Sakowitz specialty store chain—to become a global symbol of Texan hospitality and grace. In 1963 she married Oscar Wyatt, the infamous founder of Coastal Oil and Gas. She counts herself a BFF of the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Sir Elton John, and Liza Minnelli; has appeared in virtually every fashion magazine ever published; was inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1977; and was made an officer of the French government’s Order of Arts and Letters in 2007. Having reached the grand age of 73, she agreed to pass on a few life lessons. Mimi Swartz

How did you develop your sense of style?

Being born into the Sakowitz family, I was always interested in fashion. My own style has developed through incredible influences. My mother taught me that a dress should not wear the wearer, my father that a woman should always be at her best inside her own skin.

I have never been conscious of developing a style. I never thought, “Now, Lynn, you are going to design yourself a specific look.” Style develops from the heart. Mine comes from the feelings I have inside—femininity, confidence, strength, and a sense of humor.

I noticed you have a well-placed photograph of Helmut Newton with the caption “I’m watching you … ”

Yes, when I told Helmut that I had a Helmut Newton room in our house, Oscar said, “Helmut, don’t get excited. It’s just the downstairs powder room.” People stay in there for twenty and thirty minutes at a time, just looking at his books and signed photographs all over the wall.

Style seems almost instinctual for you, when it isn’t for others.

When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I began working as a salesperson in the junior miss department of Sakowitz. That was a responsibility, because I found, even in my young, inexperienced way, that the client, so vulnerable in the dressing room, was asking my opinion. Should I lie and make the sale or be honest, knowing that the outfit wasn’t for her? Truth is stronger than lies any day of the week. Soon I found my small, modest opinions building clientele.

So what’s your best advice?

If there is one word that could simplify this wonderful predicament, it would be “appropriate.” What is appropriate for the occasion? Who is the guest of honor? What is the age group? I dress for the occasion and add certain twists to amuse myself. Fashion should not be taken so seriously; you should have fun with it. In today’s economic climate “downsizing” is the appropriate word for everything. That old saying “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” is the complete antithesis of today’s world. I’m happily wearing my golden oldies, mixing and matching.

Style isn’t just about fashion, is it?

Style is a sign of creativity, of knowing who you are. The way you dress sends a message to the public about how you want to be perceived. What’s on your body reflects what’s on your mind.

Style is about how a person lives. Life is an adventure. If I am eating a steak, I go right to the center of it. I took my boys on safari to Africa. I went to the North Pole three times. Almost got my toes frostbitten off. When I came back home, I couldn’t feel my toes for maybe six months. I’d go to a dance and some dancer would step on my feet and say, “Oh, excuse me,” and I’d say, “Oh, don’t worry. I didn’t feel a thing.” My motto is “Live a lot, laugh a lot, love a lot, and be extremely grateful for all the gifts you have been given.”

In the sixties you began spending your summers in the South of France, entertaining everyone from Princess Grace and Andy Warhol to Christina Onassis and the Begum Aga Khan. Can you conjure up those times?

Our villa was called La Mauresque, which had been previously owned by the famous writer Somerset Maugham and was, of course, loaded with history. It had a high-maintenance clay tennis court, often played upon by serious and not-so-serious tennis buffs. One serious game I recall was Johnny Carson and Prince Rainier against Prince Albert and our son Douglas. Of course the game was won by the “gray-haired sly foxes,” as Prince Rainier called his team. I think there was an unwritten law that the head of any monarchy shouldn’t lose.

A few years later, Liza Minnelli and Mark Gero, her then new husband, and Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal were house-guests. Liza and Mark wanted to stay and be lovebirds at home. Gorgeous Farrah and Ryan were like Mr. and Mrs. America, always wide-eyed and smiling, looking fabulous and ready to go to any party I was ready to take them to. After the stunning success of Love Story, Ryan was the hottest heartthrob in Hollywood. One scorching day we were sitting in a bar, trying to cool off, when a beautiful young woman arrived with her father. Suddenly, in front of our table, she fainted from the heat. Ever the gentleman, Ryan jumped off his chair and put his arm under the girl’s head to elevate it. She opened her eyes and looked into his. Then she fluttered her eyelids and promptly fainted dead away. I suspect she thought she had died and gone to heaven.

Another night Farrah and Ryan and I returned late, finding Liza and Mark waiting up for us. The newlyweds Liza and Mark were happy to hear about all of the parties but thrilled not to have to go. After about four o’clock in the morning, we realized that we were ravenous. Liza went straight to the kitchen and whipped up the best spaghetti Alfredo you’ve ever tasted. The stereo was playing, and

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