Cornelia Guest: Vegan bags with LI roots

Cornelia Guest is an animal activist, cruelty-free advocate

Cornelia Guest is an animal activist, cruelty-free advocate from the storied Long Island Guest family. She has launched a smart line of vegan handbags. (April 9, 2012) (Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

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Imagine. Mother Earth shows up at a posh society gig, decked out in some gorgeous floral headdress, and a leafy, flowing goddess gown. Accessories? Very likely she'd be carrying a Cornelia Guest handbag.

About a year ago, Guest, 48, a striking blond socialite with an easy laugh who hails from the highest stratosphere of the society set (for real, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were her godparents), introduced a collection of chic, cruelty-free, eco-friendly bags.

"I couldn't find anything I loved that was affordable and beautiful," the animal activist, says.

Her bags meld her passion for animals, the Earth and style, and range from $40 for a coin purse to $350 for a woven weekender bag. That's extremely reasonable in the handbag world -- a small, faux python bag by eco-friendly Stella McCartney is $1,435.

Made of faux leather and recyclable PVC, the bags, named after her friends or her dogs (she has 10), are "an intelligent alternative for women in every age group, she says. "We're all on the go and have so many bags -- for evening, for laptops, for books. I've tried to make something for everyone."

Apparently, she's succeeded. The line sold out and was reordered two days after it originally hit Bloomingdale's in November. Today, says Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale's fashion accessories director, "they're doing phenomenally. I think she's got the perfect combination of a really upscale aesthetic, a great cruelty-free message and terrific quality."

Adam Glassman, creative director at O, the Oprah Magazine, is also a fan. "Here is someone who grew up in this privileged life and could easily be wearing fur or leather but has this passion for animals. I love the bags. They're fairly affordable, stylish and look luxurious and fashionable. She's working hard at it."

Indeed. Guest was born to the rarefied environs of Templeton, the estate in Old Westbury where her parents -- polo star Winston Guest, a cousin of Winston Churchill and heir to the Phipps fortune, and her best-dressed-listed, style icon, garden columnist mother, C.Z. -- hobnobbed with the likes of the Kennedys, Truman Capote and fashion folks such as Halston, Yves Saint Laurent and Oscar de la Renta. But she doesn't rest on her blue-blooded laurels.

Besides the bags, she runs a catering company that specializes in healthy foods. She sells homemade chocolate chip cookies (deadly, in a good way) at corneliaguest.com, with a portion of the profits going to the Humane Society of New York, where she sits on the board. Her new book, "Cornelia Guest's Simple Pleasures" ($32.50, Weinstein & Co.), due out in June, includes healthy vegan recipes and entertaining tips. In the future, she says, she'd like to design clothes, shoes and tabletop items.

But for now, bags are the focus. Recently, Guest moved out of her "bedroom" headquarters to a posh office in Manhattan. She makes regular personal appearances at Bloomingdale's (the next on May 24 at the 59th Street store) where customers, says Jaffe, "fall in love with her enthusiasm."

We're guessing Mother Earth might like her, too. "People always say you're a society girl, you're this, you're that," says Guest. "But I am a country girl at heart. I'm happiest barefoot, in the mud, in my garden."

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