History’s Top 5 parties: From Masquerade Balls to Surrealist Dinners, They’re Almost too Good to Be True!
As the buzz surrounding tonight’s Met Gala reaches a fever pitch, many websites have done a good job of reflecting on the event’s storied past—the dresses, the glamour, the history-making moments! And while dishing on the red carpet has become a full on spectator sport, what happens beyond the velvet rope is something many of us plebes will really never experience. In the context of high society’s glittering history, the Met Gala is just one of many cool parties the crème de le crème mingle at. In 2011, Assouline published a retrospective on the greatest balls of the last century (the book has been on my must-own list since) and here we count down five that have made us green with past life regression envy.
Paul Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night Party
June 24, 1911
At the height of the Orientalism craze, designer Paul Poiret held an over the top Persian-themed costume party for 300 of his closest Parisian pals. Instructed to dress in theme or be re-dressed in one of Poiret’s revolutionary new styles—the lampshade tunic dress or harem pants—guests were privy to Poiret’s wife Denise being freed from a gold cage at midnight in one of his latest looks. Though he’d never actually confirm it, the party was apparently inspired by the Ballet Russes’s scandalous production of Scheherazade a year prior.
Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball
November 28, 1966
Described as “a pinnacle of New York’s social history,” this party is known to have set the bar for virtually every high society event to follow it. Thrown by Truman Capote at the Plaza Hotel, the party was a virtual who’s who of society swans, and Hollywood A-listers alike. Though held ostensibly in honour of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, the party served as an approval rating for all those deemed “in” (Babe Paley, Andy Warhol, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Lee Radziwell and Candice Bergen) and arbitrarily “out” (Kim Novak, Ed Sullivan, Tony Curtis and Lynn Redgrave) by the social-climbing Capote. The details of the night were made into a book entitled Party of the Century.
The Oriental Ball
December 5, 1969
Prominent Paris banker and social Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Redé was known for throwing extraordinary parties for his “magic” social circle of actors, artists and socialites. For this affair, guests including Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Rudolph Nureyev and Brigitte Bardot were greeted with two life-size papier maché elephants as they entered Hôtel Lambert in Paris. The rest is documented first hand here.
The Surrealist Ball
December 12, 1972
40 years after the height of Surrealism, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild an epic ball in its honour at one of her family’s mansions, Château de Ferrières. Guests dressed as various Surrealist modes including Magritte’s famed The Son of Man, with custom-designed Salvador Dalí headdresses and with diamond-encrusted boar masks. Audrey Hepburn was there too, dressed naturally inside a birdcage.
Bianca Jagger’s Birthday Party
May 2, 1977
Bianca Jagger cemented her “Queen of New York” status by riding into Studio 54 on a white horse on her 32nd birthday to a welcoming crowd that included David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Halston, Liza Minnelli and husband Mick Jagger. If the shlocky (amazing) mid-nineties movie 54 is any indication, this party was just another night at the epic hedonist den.