May 16, 1977 12:00 PM

The great launchings of the 1970s, like those of the past, involve a bottle and a woman, but these days they celebrate the floating not of a majestic liner but of the latest fragrance. In the beginning there was Catherine Deneuve and Chanel. Après that, le déluge. Margaux Hemingway for Babe, Candice Bergen for Cie, Victoria Fyodorova for Alexandra de Markoff…The pertinent next question is, which is going to evanesce first, the personality or the perfume? The expense and peril of the venture seem second only to the Concorde jet.

So when the calculating Paris house of Nina Ricci made its move this week, it was only after finding an almost poof-proof name: de Portago. Andréa, 26, had the continental chic of Catherine, acting talents (if not credits) that had to match Candy’s, a name signifying legendary courage like Margaux’s, plus roots (to coin a phrase) that were half Southern social, half Spanish aristocracy. Her father, the late Don Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, 17th Marquis de Portago, was the flamboyant Grand Prix driver-playboy. Her mother was a South Carolina-born model, but a starlet-companion sent him off with a famous kiss just before his fatal crash at 28 in Italy’s Mille Miglia. It was photographed and played so sensationally in the worldwide press that the name Linda Christian was more attached to the marquis than Andréa’s mother, Carroll MacDaniel. In short, de Portago was just a woman-in-waiting for her scent to come. Though Farouche, as Ricci christened it, could whiff, Andréa is here to stay.

“She’s going to be a very big star,” proclaims pal Andy Warhol, the Galileo of that lesser galaxy. Carlo Bilotti, president of Ricci distributor Jacqueline Cochran, is gambling a million-dollar promotion on anointing her glamor’s next woman-of-the-year. It isn’t total hype when Bilotti describes her as “a new breed of urban, international woman—she skis at Gstaad, dances at Régine’s, yet loves to work.” Also it doesn’t hurt that Andréa is as likely to quote Dolly Parton by heart as Ibsen—and is certain to be socko on the TV talk show circuit with her lovely mellifluous voice. Her reaction: “I’m scared to death and yet thrilled.”

Indeed, if accidentally, the word farouche—in French it means both “fierce” and “shy”—pretty well fits de Portago. With her share of the family trust, she didn’t have to—and never would have to—settle into anything sensible or substantial. She just wanted to. “Look,” she explains, “I’m 26. I can’t keep making excuses. I needed to find work, something that is creative. I have always been scared of all the opportunities and I was never secure enough.”

Born in New York, Andréa was 6 when her father died. “He was incredibly hip,” she recalls. “He took me riding around Paris in his Ferrari once and never stopped for a light.” (He is also the inspiration for Erich Maria Remarque’s book Heaven Has No Favorites, in turn the basis for the upcoming Al Pacino-Marthe Keller film Bobby Deerfield.) His death, the legal battles over the estate and her mother’s two subsequent marriages lofted Andréa above it all into the social jetstream.

There were an endless succession of hotels (“I was just like Eloise,” says Andréa), acting lessons at 10, dance with Balanchine as well as half a dozen boarding schools, at which, Andréa recalls, “I was always getting into trouble.” Through it all, her favorite, she insists, has been her paternal grandmother, Olga Martin-Montis, who lives in Biarritz. “Other than my grandmother, I’ve had no one to stand by me all my life. She’s in her 80s now, but when I visit we stay up and talk all the time. She tells me not to sleep around too much and that I should go for a career.”

Andréa listened, and at 21 she came home. There were a series of fanciful flings (including one with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau) before she hooked up with Bob Neuwirth, Bob Dylan’s singer-cohort. “He made me love America. I didn’t really know Americans before,” Andréa says. The three-year romance is now over, but she remains a country fan and will jet to L.A. just to catch a Parton concert.

Andréa’s retreat is now a four-room apartment off Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Her roommate is a threatening Siberian husky, Soo Good. Cronies cross over from Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge (from the Bob Dylan days) to Paul Simon and Warhol (who introduced her to American Indian art and co-wrote her yet-to-be-finished play). She goes to acting school, and her coach at the Stella Adler studio reports, “There are a lot of beautiful girls around, but Andréa is very gifted.” Yet now, admittedly, she’s more into beauty than truth and delivery on her annual Ricci contract. “I’m the queen of paranoia about my looks,” she admits. “If I look bad it can ruin my day.”

Career comes ahead of even romance. “I have no boyfriend—at least not this week,” she jokes. “When I am in love,” Andréa finds, “I burn up too much energy, I lose too much weight.” (She maintains a trim 115 pounds on her 5’7½” frame.) And marriage? Her continental side prevails. “When I think of some of the people I might have married I am so glad I didn’t. Americans take marriage too seriously,” she finds. “Europeans know about that. It should be a giggle. I love being alive today,” exults the front-runner for woman-of-the-year. “I hate nostalgia. Now is the most interesting time of all, and I don’t want to miss a moment of it.”

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