Scattered Clouds75° WeatherScattered Clouds75° Weather

Gennifer Flowers remakes herself with a jewelry line in Tampa

PALM HARBOR

Gennifer Flowers stood in a sea of ladies who lunch, taffeta jackets and kitten heels and cocktails at 11 a.m.

She wore a mesh shirt covered by a blazer, and her lips were slick fuchsia. She styled her own platinum hair. She balanced on platform lace booties, peep holes exposing a perfect French pedicure.

She wasn't nervous, exactly. But she was careful.

"You only get one chance at a first impression," she said. "In my experience, you make that the best it can be."

Her jewelry line, the Gennifer Flowers Collection, made its debut on a folding table at the Innisbrook resort before a charity fashion show in late February. She joined vendors selling tropical Christmas ornaments, handbags and crystallized college T-shirts.

Flowers reviewed every piece of jewelry, halted the website until it was, in her mind, perfect. She would be judged, she hoped, on these crystals and stones and bangles, not on that other thing.

She is 61 now. It gets easier, or at least more familiar, with time. Younger people don't remember it, and older people think of her as a novelty. But America is the land of encore acts for those who work, and if she works, maybe she can just be Gennifer.

An old man peeked around the corner and snapped a picture.

Flowers filled a tiny glass at a water fountain, sipped, and sat back from the crowd.

• • •

Two women peeked into her booth.

"Who is that?"

"She's . . . Bill Clinton's . . ."

"Oh."

Flowers knows she's a curiosity, forever Gennifer with a "G" in those angry magazine snapshots. She has no illusions about her place in history. But when the subject comes up, you can sense her fatigue.

"I don't enjoy sitting down with Joe Blow and him asking me questions," she said. "How much do you really want to talk about an ex? The thing about this particular ex and this situation is a part of history. It's not something that's ever going to go away. It could minimize, and it does. But I deal with it every day on some level."

In 1992, when Clinton was governor of Arkansas running for president, Flowers claimed they had a 12-year affair. Clinton denied it before later admitting only part of it. Vitriol came from all sides. She was called an incredible liar.

But fame doesn't care about motivations, who was right and who was wrong. In a sex scandal, the rush of attention is fast and unyielding.

Monica Lewinsky rode the wave for a while, designing purses and eating at fine restaurants before moving to Europe and living in virtual obscurity. Paula Jones, who claimed Clinton sexually harassed her, posed for Penthouse and later appeared on Celebrity Boxing.

Flowers also posed for Penthouse and wrote a memoir called Passion and Betrayal. But she is custodial of her fame. She never set out to be a housewife or teacher or live a quiet life in the country, she said. She was always an entertainer, even before the book deals and tabloids.

"I had goals," she said. "When the Clinton thing happened, it changed all that. What I've managed to accomplish since, I've really had to claw and fight for. I deserve respect. People just thought I woke up one day and said 'I'm famous.' "

• • •

Her first jewelry customer in the world was Cathy Odette. A widow from Oldsmar. A fellow blond. Just like Flowers, she is 61.

Odette scooped up a chunky silver collar of tiny beads joined with a freshwater pearl. It was understated, perfect for her son's upcoming wedding. She paid $95 and wrapped it around her neck.

Flowers got up to meet Odette. They posed for a photo together, and Odette leaned into Flowers. She'd watched the scandal unfold on television years ago, and she always felt bad for Flowers. Women have a rough time in the world, she said. They tear each other down.

"I was always on your side," she whispered. "It's so easy for the world to twist things."

Flowers' icy eyes rimmed with water, and she raised a manicured finger to dab it away.

• • •

When she was a child, her mother took her to New Orleans, to the Blue Room at the Roose­velt hotel. Flowers was captivated.

"I saw this beautiful woman standing in front of the 35-piece orchestra in a light blue velvet evening gown singing like an angel," she said. "Okay, this is it."

At 11, she recorded her first album. She appeared in several films, and went on the Roy Clark Show. She worked as a TV reporter in Little Rock.

The scandal changed everything, rocketing her to a different stratosphere.

"I may not have handled everything perfectly," she said. "But I didn't have a book of instructions and I did the best I could at the time."

While looking for a home, she became enchanted with New Orleans. It was a city of second chances. She opened a cabaret there called the Kelsto Club, which flourished until Hurricane Katrina, until a divorce.

She gave speeches about menopause to women's groups. She lectured about sex and politics. She toured as a singer. In 2008, she put tapes of conversations between her and Clinton up for auction. She wanted security for her future, she told a newspaper.

She was tired.

In 2010, a woman named Sherry Stockwell found her through a mutual friend. Stockwell and two other women wanted a star to endorse accessories. Someone who appealed to baby boomers. Someone who was glamorous.

Gennifer Flowers wore rhinestone collars with her jogging suit.

The team contacted Georgette Diaz, who owns Georgette's Boutique & Shoe Salon in Tampa. She agreed to carry the line and invited Flowers to her February fashion show to benefit the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens.

"I really think everyone should have an opportunity to do their dream," Diaz said.

Flowers wants to be on HSN. She'd like to create cosmetics, skin care, lingerie. She envisions lines in Target and Walmart. She sees herself under the glow of the stage lights like HSN queens Twiggy and Rhonda Shear and Forbes Riley.

But that will take time. People don't know her, she said.

"What they think they know is an image. I'm a very down-to-earth, nice person. I love people. I'm grateful for what they bring to me. They're surprised to find out that I'm not the blond bimbo bitch just out to destroy people."

She thinks about how life might have gone.

"What I want to be remembered for and what they will remember me for might be two different things," she said. "I would like for them to remember me as a good person, a kind person that's survived and not only survived, but thrived."

• • •

At the fashion show, Flowers' group perched on a sound booth above the crowd. Flowers watched with great care, perhaps a yen to be up there. She studied the moves, and when the dancers hit their mark she nodded. She sang along to Big Spender.

A few of her jewelry items made it down the runway, but the announcers forgot to acknowledge her.

"It's okay," she said. "I'm happy to be included."

On her way out, an Innisbrook server who had been pouring iced tea approached Flowers. Jessica Bishop is 25 now, 7 when the Clinton scandal happened.

"I have to ask you . . . ," said Bishop.

Flowers stopped.

". . . Where did you get your shoes? They're dazzling."

Flowers breathed, said Saks Fifth Avenue, and walked out into the light.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

To see the jewelry, visit genniferflowerscollection.com.

Flowers couldn't stay for lunch because she wanted to see Epcot before going home.

"I was at Disney World in the '70s," she said. "They didn't have Epcot then."

Gennifer Flowers remakes herself with a jewelry line in Tampa 03/04/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 6, 2011 8:15pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...