TAMPA — It’s the third night of the Republican National Convention, and Georgette Mosbacher — cosmetics impresario and eccentric grande dame of GOP fundraising — is waiting in the lobby of the Westin Tampa Harbour Island hotel for her sister Lyn, who has gone to fetch a needle and thread.
The kick pleat in the back of Georgette’s black-and-white leopard print Roberto Cavalli dress has torn, and Georgette needs her sister to fix it. As she slips out of five-inch heels and into velvet navy flats embossed with gold Republican elephants, Georgette recounts her youth as the oldest of the four Paulsin children in a modest home in Highland, Ind. When her father, a restaurant owner, died, her mother returned to work, leaving it to 7-year-old Georgette to change baby Lyn’s diapers and warm her bottles.
“She’s my babysitter,” Georgette says. “I mean, baby sister.”
The 65-year-old businesswoman, chief executive officer of Borghese cosmetics, has never shied away from talking about how her marriages to real estate developer Robert Muir, the late Faberge CEO George Barrie and Bush family friend and former commerce secretary Robert Mosbacher catapulted her into a world of wealth, soirees and presidential politics. Yet, despite the attention paid to the marriages and divorces of “Hurricane Georgette” or “Monsoon Mosbacher” (as she has been called by columnists), her most enduring and overlooked relationship has been with Lyn Paulsin — sister, manager, employee, confidante, emissary, Girl Friday and, most important on this night, seamstress.
Lyn emerges from the elevator.
“The needle and thread?” Georgette asks.
Lyn, 60, puts an I-can’t-believe-I-forgot hand to her forehead, and turns around.
Georgette is renowned for political fundraisers and society bashes at her Fifth Avenue apartment, which is adorned with crystal chandeliers, faux-Roman marble busts and gilded mirrors. Another constant feature is Lyn, who has dated regulars in the Mosbacher party circuit. The gossip pages mistakenly linked her to Republican consultant Ed Rollins; she says she did go on a couple of dates with Rush Limbaugh.
At one event, when Georgette fell ill, Lyn stepped in like an eager understudy to host. “I can’t remember an event, whether a book signing or political event or social event, in which Lyn wasn’t involved in some way or another,” says billionaire Wilbur Ross, who spent part of the Republican convention mingling on a yacht flying the Cayman Islands flag.
Georgette makes the calls extracting fundraising commitments; Lyn follows up and collects the money. (“I don’t have the time to talk to everyone; they talk to her,” Georgette says of Lyn. “But they think they’ve talked to me.”)
In Georgette’s various cosmetics ventures, Lyn has carried the titles “director of communications” and “vice president of creative services.” The teamwork extends beyond business and politics. Georgette pays for the family cruise to South America; Lyn makes sure the rooms have connecting terraces. Lyn, who is officially employed by Borghese, often appears as a dutiful assistant. She has rolled a lint brush over Georgette’s dress in green rooms and peered through the camera lenses to approve photos.
“I don’t know much about Lyn,” Barbara Walters says, adding that her friend Georgette “gives very interesting cocktail parties for friends. Her sister usually coordinates it.”
In Tampa, the Romney campaign offered the sisters separate rooms, but they preferred to stay together. Lyn checked in early and Georgette waited for the winds and rain from Hurricane Isaac to subside before flying down two days later. When she arrived, Georgette looked around the hotel room in disapproval: “This place is not clean.”
“I thought I did it,” Lyn said, as Georgette wiped all the surfaces.
During this, the sisters’ seventh convention together, Lyn keeps Mrs. Mosbacher, as she calls Georgette in public, on schedule and in face powder as the two breeze through dinners and delegations like tropical birds amid a flock of pale gulls. Georgette wears stars-and-stripes earrings, her colored red hair in a crest, her eyebrows permanently darkened red by a tattoo artist in Gary, Ind. Lyn is ice to Georgette’s fire. She wears her bleached hair short, prefers a paler lip gloss and had her eyebrows tattooed light brown in Washington. She dons a cream-colored Renato Ballestra frock, which, like many of her outfits, was handed down to her by Georgette and was tailored to fit her smaller frame.
Despite differences in build, (“Don’t think we’ll go there, hon,” Lyn says) the sisters share laugh lines and almond-shaped eyes. Lyn’s prominent cheekbones and resemblance to the actress Annette Bening have prompted reports that she once modeled. (“Wikipedia doesn’t get much right,” Georgette says. “She was a housewife.”)
Both sisters wear gold Eagle pins on their lapels, identifying them as Romney mega-donors, and a stack of VIP credentials around their necks. At the convention, they could be seen bickering outside exclusive donor powwows (“Don’t be upset,” Georgette pleaded with Lyn outside a brunch organized by billionaire Paul Singer. “It was an honest mistake.”) or giddily relaying how Ann Romney, for whom Georgette has served on the host committee for several fundraisers in New York, privately reacted to Democratic attacks on her dressage-competing mare. (“My horse has more style and more class in its hoof than they do in their whole deal,” Lyn recounts.)
As she waited for Lyn in the Westin lobby, Georgette explains how she beckoned her sister decades ago to move to New York from the Midwest after Lyn divorced Vladimir Gastevich, a lawyer 20 years her senior. “Look, there’s no such thing as a divorce that isn’t tough,” she says with authority. “It was devastating and, yeah, you turn to your sister. So I was there to catch her.”
Lyn returns, brandishing needle and thread.
“Being my sister is not easy,” Georgette offers. “I mean, here I am. I live this glamorous life and my sister is always in the background. Not everyone can play that role; not everyone can do that.”
“Well, that’s why it works,” says Lyn, who has retained more of her Hoosier twang than her sister.
Lyn positions herself behind Georgette, who is sitting in a blue wicker chair. Lyn remembers the timing and the circumstances of her move to New York differently. “I’ll never forget that day she called me up and said ‘I need your help, I need your help,’ ” Lyn recalls, growing teary.
“For a big sister to ask a little sister. . . .”
“Were you divorced yet?” Georgette inquires.
“No,” Lyn says.
Lyn was still living in Crown Point, Ind., with her husband in the late 1980s when Georgette called. Lyn then spent every other week in New York, as Georgette acquired La Prairie, the cosmetics company known for rejuvenating face creams made with cells extracted from sheep placentas. After Georgette won control of the company, Lyn, then 39, moved to New York full time, and helped her build up the company. Georgette put Gastevich, her sister’s husband, on the board. Two years later, in 1992, he and Lyn amicably divorced; Gastevich died in 2005.
As the sisters talk fondly about their work together marketing La Prairie, Georgette rises and faces a television next to the lobby bar that is playing the convention speech of John McCain, whom she supported in the previous presidential election. With her back to the chair and her bosom toward the bar, she looks like a painted figurehead on a ship. She glances back over her shoulder and nods toward the wicker chair.
“I’m going to sit here?” Lyn asks.
“I can’t very well do it myself because it’s behind me,” Georgette says, referring to the rip in her dress. She rolls her eyes, playfully. Lyn does, too.
“See? This is what sisters do,” Georgette says. “She’s going to sew up my dress. . . . Now, go ahead.”
Georgette’s phone rings inside her purse. She shuffles away from Lyn, who lurches forward to keep sewing.
“Who would be 8-1-3 that just called me?” Georgette says, after missing the call.
“Eight. One. Three,” Lyn ponders. “I would guess local. Eight-one-three is local.” She leans in behind her sister for a closer look at the seam. “I’m hoping that nobody is going to look at this, because this is big stitches on the outside, not on the inside. I think no one’s going to notice. I think that’s good. What do you think?”
Georgette doesn’t answer. “Hi, it’s Georgette Mosbacher,” she says into her phone. “I think this number just called me, and I missed the call so I don’t know who this is. But call me back. Bye!”
“Just tell me if that’s enough,” Lyn asks again, leaning back to view her work.
“Just as long as it’s not open,” Georgette says and starts to walk away.
“I have to do the knots!” Lyn exclaims. “I have to do the knots!”
“It’s hanging there?” Georgette says, looking down at the needle dangling from her dress. Cue eye rolls.
Georgette and Lyn were close as kids, distant as teenagers and then close again as adults. Their five-year age difference evaporated after Georgette graduated from Indiana University in 1969 and took a job at an advertising firm in Chicago, and Lyn graduated high school in 1970 and opened up a jewelry shop in nearby Lansing. They credit their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother for instilling in them a robust work ethic, the subject of Georgette’s book “Feminine Force: Release the Power Within to Create the Life You Deserve,” which she published in 1993, two years after she sold La Prairie for tens of millions of dollars.
Georgette’s phone rings, displaying the 813 number again. “The admiral,” she says, covering the receiver. She excuses herself and wanders to a corner of the lobby.
Alone, Lyn reflects on the end of her marriage to Gastevich. She recalls her then-husband talking about Georgette’s offer to set up her little sister in Manhattan. “He said, ‘You know, Lyn, you have such an enormous opportunity that your sister is offering you.’ He said, ‘My life is pretty much over, and there is not much we can do for one another anymore.’ And he said, ‘You know, you’ve got to grab it, you’ve got to grab that ring, because she’s fabulous and she’s opening so many doors for you.’ And we both cried as we departed.”
Georgette walks back with her hand still cupping the phone, leans over to her sister and asks, “Where are we staying?”
On the way to the convention hall, donors, security guards and reporters turn their heads to gawk as the sisters walk by, Lyn clacking in heels and Georgette’s feet silent in flats.
Georgette freezes in place. “Shouldn’t I have my high heels?” she says, pointing at her sister’s bag. “Oh! You have ’em.”
“No, sorry,” Lyn responds, and Georgette gasps. “I took them out because they were too much.” Lyn offers her three-inch white heels. “You can put mine on and I’ll put your flats on.”
“Oh, but those are not the kind of shoes I’d wear,” Georgette says. “I want those five-inch heels. They’re either flat or they’re five inches. There’s nothing in between.” The sisters enter a long, tented corridor lined with televisions promoting an energy company.
Their favorite convention was the 1988 gathering that anointed George H.W. Bush, a buddy of oilman Robert Mosbacher, as the GOP nominee. “When you’re married to the best friend of the vice president who became president, what can I tell ya?” says Georgette, who lived in the District during Bush’s administration. “We were on the same floor. We had the suite next to him. It was surreal. I lived a surreal life.”
“I sat on Lincoln’s bed,” says Lyn, about later visits to the White House. “And we took the matches.” She reveals, with some embarassment, that her ex-husband was a Democratic judge and that she had faked her political allegiance for years.
“I could not even fake it!” Georgette says. The two sisters laugh uproariously.
After wending their way through security, they enter the arena. Georgette, a New York delegate, has a reserved seat on the convention floor. On the way down to the floor, an usher stops Lyn, who is not a delegate and doesn’t have a floor pass. Georgette says she’ll join Lyn later in one of the exclusive donor skyboxes on the fourth floor. Georgette waves goodbye and walks down.
As she looks for an elevator, Lyn offers a summary of her life in New York. “I’ve got my girlfriends, movies and I work,” she says, declining to say how much she makes at Borghese but adding that she has terrific benefits: vacations whenever she wants and taking Cosmo, her 14-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, to the office.
Georgette’s home is bigger, but Lyn could still fit a good crowd into her Park Avenue and 58th Street apartment for caviar parties. She goes to open-mike night on Thursdays at the Sugar Bar. She works out. “I have a trainer,” she says. “Georgette doesn’t.”
Once on the fourth floor, senators and power brokers pass her, but she pays them no mind. “I’m not that involved in the politics as much as she is,” she says. “It’s only every four years.”
At the end of the hall, a young woman guards a curtain, behind which Romney campaign VIPs, lawmakers and donors drink and chat. The woman sorts through Lyn’s credentials.
“I am a Channel Side Club, right there,” Lyn says, lifting one badge. “I’m a Battleground,” she says, showing another.
A green badge, reserved for super-donors, catches the young woman’s eye.
“Oh, you’re Green Room,” the woman says. “You’re welcome to be here.”
Lyn ignores her.
She asks for the room reserved for Stripes — the campaign’s most prolific fundraisers.
“I have to meet my sister.”