There have been other men in her life since Aly Khan.
"There must have been," says Bettina. "Don't ask me who or where or when," Barefoot and crosslegged, she sits on the hotel bed and laughs and buries her face.
And loe? "Yes," she says, and shrugs. "Nothing serious, as you can see."
Aly Khan, the Jet Set prince whose racing skills were red and green, who married Rita Hayworth, whose son is the current Aga Khan and whose father had tributes made him of his weight in pearls, gold, and platinum, is a hard act to follow.
The "playboy prince," as he was called his life "a headline parade, "died in an automobile crash in 1960 - a crash in which Bettina was injured - and left Bettina, the beautiful Vogue model with whom he lived for the last five years of his life, enough money to get by on until two years ago. Then she went to work as the directrice of Emmanuel Ungaro's haute couture. "I needed to go to work for the money," she says matter-of-factly.
Bettina is of course not starving. Women of great beauty never do, even at 52, "I'age," she announces, "de la raison." She urges such customers as Doris Duke. Jackie O, Jacqueline de Ribes, the Rothschilds, and Princess Yasmin (Aly's and Rita's daughter) to buy Ungaro. (How could even a Rothschild argue with such a woman?)
Since Aly Khan's death, she has built a house near the Aga Khan's resort in Sardinia, taken an apartment in Paris, barged down the Nile, has as many layers of Ungaro's pile it-on-plaids as she could want. She lunches at the Ritz with the hold Begum Aly Khan when she comes (from Cannes) to Paris, and they sometimes talk of former lives (the Begum was a beauty contest winner before she married the old Aga, who died 20 years ago), but not, you understand, with the downcast miens of windows; and when in Washington. Bettina lunches at Sans Souci with her old friend Art Buchwald and Eunice Shrive ("I had the sole," she says. "It was" - she aspirates the aitch - "very Honest. Very clean. Very American.")
So it is not as though the goddess of feminism struck Bettina with lightning and sent her reeling grimly out into Trade. "I don't think work is the most important thing in the world. "she says." To be independent, for me, I don't think it is the dream of a woman's life. So many women suffer, wanting independence, but often after that they find that it is loneliness. You say 'solitudismez' You get to a certain point when you want to live with somebody and for somebody in a house, to have a family. I don't think the life of a woman is like a man going to an office, coming back at night. I do that now because I have to do it and it's fun. But I wouldn't like to have to do that all my life."
Her mother, half Normande, half Basque, was a divorcee, a teacher who raised Bettina Bodin on a shoestring. Bettina recalls. And "very intelligently. We had no money. We had to learn to clean and cook, which was the best thing that could happen."
She had worked for 10 years before she met Aly Khan, first as a model for Jacques Fath, then for photographers. "It is not all the glamouruos life of the mannequin." she says. "You do that job, you work so much, you don't have a private life. You just go home and collapse."
You also meet Aly Khan buying dresses for Rita Hayworth at the Jacques Fath showroom.
It was not until 1955 - several years later - that they met again at a dinner party in Paris, and Aly Khan, then divorced, caught her eye, or she his.
She says she loved him because he was charming, and that he loved her because she was "a natural woman."
Everything came so easily." she says," as if it had to bedone.He was known to have a lot of charm. You couldn'tmiss it.He always turned heads, not because he was known, but because he had such an appeal. I don't mean always attracting by love. I mean even men, even children - the whole world loved him. He was very well-mannered. He gave the feeling that the person he was talking to was the only person on earth for the moment. He was full of life, full of energy. Men with lots of energy are very attractive. He was a man doing many things. He would take a plane to see a horse run. He was very free. Besides, when you put your charm on somebody full strength for five minutes, it works. It was not a tric, because a trick doesn't work."
"He was somebody," she says, "who needed to be loved, a very deep quality of love with no restraint. What he liked about me was that I was not bluffed by the very glamourous part of his life. I am a breed from the country. Normandy, which meant it was very pieds a terre. It's very nice to have such an easy life, but it can destroy you. You lose a sense of reality, when you have as much money as you want to buy things, or fame because you live with somebody who is famous. Everything is passager. You have to know the worst thing is when you start to lead your life to keep those things, or to get them."
He never married her. And there are no regrets. She says, this legendary femme fatale who wears her wrinkles boildly now. "It wouldn't have changed anything. He would have been dead anyway. Married or not married."
She cut her forehead in the automobile crash that killed him when he was 48. "It's destiny." she says. "I could have died too. Life is finished in two seconds and you don't know why. It took me a long time to feel better. It changes in your mind or your thought or your memory but it doesn't go away at all. When you live with somebody, for somebody and suddenly life is changed. She snaps her fingers. "Completely I was disturbed for a long time."
Bettina has been speaking thoughtfully but not sadly, tucking the tissue delicate wool skirt she wears around her bare toes. "Everything," she says, "everything in my life has been a plus, even the bad things. They are terrible in the moment, but useful for your strength and character. I have the taste for life." she says. "I am not blase. I am not bored, always something is happening, all the time. Life for me is sort of an adventure."