Adorable Story #8: Carmen Mayrink Veiga
Brazil's Timeless Socialite
Carmen Therezinha Solbiati Mayrink Veiga (Pirajuí, April 24, 1927 — Rio de Janeiro, December 3, 2017), better known as Carmen Mayrink Veiga, was a famous Brazilian aristocrat and socialite, with a significant presence in international fashion and jet-set circles: for many decades, she was considered one of the most elegant and well-dressed women in the world.
Daughter of Maria de Lourdes de Lacerda Guimarães and Enéas Solbiati, she was born into a traditional family from southeastern Brazil. On her mother's side, she was the granddaughter of the Baron of Arari and the grandniece of the Baron of Araras.
Carmen, already famous in the fashion world since her teenage years (at 16, she was named "Miss Atlântica Internacional 1946"), was a regular attendee and customer of French haute couture fashion shows alongside her mother.
On June 25, 1956, she married businessman Antônio (Tony) Alfredo Mayrink Veiga, son of Antenor Mayrink Veiga and heir to the multimillionaire fortune of the Mayrink Veiga family. The couple had two children: Antenor and Tereza Antônia.
Tony's family business, Casa Mayrink Veiga, was a representative of arms suppliers for the Brazilian Army and the National Guard since the time of the Empire of Brazil (1822-1889). They amassed a considerable fortune during the Paraguayan War (1864-1870), which continued until the 1980s when the company also began manufacturing weapons — according to Tony, due to pressure from the Brazilian Navy — and started its decline (1992) following the Collor Plan (1991-1993).
Carmen's father, Enéas Solbiati, was a wealthy coffee producer and financier from the São Paulo countryside. He was the honorary consul in Brazil of the Kingdom of Italy.
The couple, Tony and Carmen, were hailed by Truman Capote, Diana Vreeland, and Anna Wintour in American Vogue as "the chicest people in South America."
They attended various international jet-set events, from hunting trips in Africa and Europe to parties with royalty like Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana.
They mingled with multimillionaires like the Rothschilds, Onassises, and Rockefellers, as well as renowned artists and celebrities from the worlds of music, film, and high fashion.
Tony and Carmen regularly hosted gala dinners at their residences, rented castles, and they would even fly guests on Concorde supersonic jets for hunting seasons and balls in Africa, England, France, and Austria.
Their extravagance was so excessive that Veja magazine reported in November 2017 that Tony had once left behind, forgotten, an Aston Martin car at a French castle after a hunting season.
Carmen was portrayed by world-famous artists like Portinari, Andy Warhol, and Di Cavalcanti, and photographed by renowned photographers such as Francesco Scavullo, Richard Avedon, Slim Aarons, Mario Testino, Bob Wolfenson, Tuca Reinés, and others.
In the literary world, both Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Vinícius de Moraes dedicated poems to Carmen in 1955.
In the haute couture world, Carmen was intimate friend with Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy and Valentino Garavani.
Carmen is also the only person in the world to have been featured on the cover of American magazine Town & Country three times, and she was the first Brazilian personality interviewed by American talk show host David Letterman, who called her “the woman who flew the most on the Concorde”.
Quite controversially, Carmen was even featured in the 2001 music video for R.E.M.'s song "Imitation of Life," where she was caricatured as a member of the elite being splashed with water in her face as a critique of their privilege: if you look closely at the music video, a Carmen-lookalike can be spot sitting at a table, in front of the pool.
Reversal of Fortune
In the 90s, once the arms commissions from the Brazilian government were cut short following the enactment of the Collor Plan (in the attempt to stabilise hyperinflation in Brazil), the Mayrink Veiga’s fortunes gradually started dwindling and the couple eventually went bankrupt in 2007.
To pay off their debts, the Mayrink Veigas had to auction off several assets.
"I don't miss those things. I enjoyed them a lot and have no regrets," said Carmen before the auction started. "But I will miss my Portinari," she added.
The couple had hundreds of pieces of art and other assets up for auction in order to pay their creditors, including 18th-century Persian tapestries owned by the Persian royal family, an Imari porcelain dinner service for 200 people, private jets, various luxury cars including a 1951 Rolls-Royce, jewelry, and several rural and urban properties auctioned off.
The highlight of the 2007 auction was eleven works by artist Milton Dacosta, which exceeded R$1.5 million in value. The Japanese porcelain dinner set reached R$420,000. Carmen's portrait, painted by Cândido Portinari and initially valued at R$350,000, was at the last minute withdrawn from the auction at her own request.
The couple continued to live in their 1,000-square-meter mega-apartment on Flamengo Beach, facing the Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, still well-supplied with other works of art and decorative pieces.
The couple remained in their art-filled apartment until the end. Tony was a smoker and had heart problems. Carmen suffered from tropical spastic paraparesis, a disease that affected her legs movement and balance. The disease began showing symptoms in 1985, causing Carmen to initially walk with a cane and later, in 2011, use a wheelchair.
In 2013, another auction saw more than 100 pieces of art and decoration sold in São Paulo. However, the most sought-after item — the portrait of Carmen painted by Portinari in 1959 — was not included, again by Carmen's decision.
The reason for the auction, according to Carmen, was her move to a smaller property adjacent to her Flamengo Beach apartment:
"Since I became wheelchair-bound and my employees started retiring, it no longer makes sense to stay in such a large apartment."
Tony Mayrink Veiga passed away on June 28, 2016, under hospital care in Rio de Janeiro. Carmen Mayrink Veiga died in her sleep on December 3, 2017, at her apartment in Rio de Janeiro.