Despite a lifetime's worth of heartbreak in childhood, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton achieved a legendary graciousness of spirit and style. Her mother died when Hutton was six, and her father abandoned the family soon thereafter. But when she reached age 21, in 1932, Hutton's fortunes hit the stratosphere: She inherited $50 million from her mother's estate, making her one of the richest women of her time. During the next three decades, Hutton amassed the world's largest emerald collection, bought mansions around the globe, and threw famously expensive parties. What really attracted attention, however, were Hutton's sultry, society looks and her often-changing hair color, in an always au courant shade. Not to mention her seven husbands: three princes, one count, a jet-set playboy, Hollywood actor Cary Grant, and a tennis champion who was also a baron.
With Hutton's wealth came great generosity, both to the arts (she herself was a poet and dancer) and to wartime charities. During World War II, she donated her London mansion to the American government (it's now the U.S. ambassador's residence) and relocated to California, where she came to epitomize SoCal style. Hutton also graced advertisements for war bonds, and her elegant yet sporty image from this period continues to resonate. For spring 2005, John Galliano cites Hutton as an inspiration for his ready-to-wear collection: "She's fantastic," he said, "that whole moment when she lived, how generous she was, and the influences of the West Coastand then all her positive energy."