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Paris socialite Nan Kempner dies at 74

Society page fixture, a heavy smoker, succumbs to emphysema
/ Source: The Associated Press

Socialite Nan Kempner, a society page fixture and former correspondent for French Vogue, has died. She was 74.

Kempner, who had been a heavy smoker, died Sunday of emphysema at her Manhattan apartment.

Gossip columnist Liz Smith said Kempner “was just a lot of fun” and did not take herself seriously like her peers in her social set.

“Her greatest quote was that if there was no shopping in heaven she wasn’t going,” Smith said Tuesday. “She was just a very lighthearted charmer.”

Kempner was known as a hostess whose invitations were among the most coveted in New York and as an unapologetic clotheshorse particularly dedicated to designer Yves Saint Laurent. With her svelte figure, she epitomized the female New Yorkers that author Tom Wolfe dubbed “social X-rays” — so thin they look like an X-ray picture.

She also worked as a special editor of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1960s, as a design consultant for Tiffany & Co. in the 1970s and as a correspondent for French Vogue in the 1980s.

She donated many of her outfits to museums and charities, and she served on a number of boards and charity committees.

Her book, “R.S.V.P.: Menus for Entertaining From People Who Really Know How,” was published in 2000 with the proceeds going to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Born Nan Field Schlesinger in San Francisco in 1930, she attended Connecticut College for Women but did not graduate. She studied at the Sorbonne during a junior year abroad and took art lessons from Fernand Leger.

“He said I was a disgrace, and had so little talent I should go back to San Francisco and stop wasting my parents’ money,” she recalled.

She married Thomas Kempner, chairman of the investment banking house Loeb Partners, in 1952. The couple lived in a Park Avenue duplex filled with art and clothes; Kempner turned her children’s rooms into walk-in closets after they left home.

Besides her husband, she is survived by two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren