Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Baroness Had a Ball

It seems that nowadays there are none of the great private costume parties or balls held by the rich and famous as there used to be. Any party attended these days by the well to do and famous is usually sponsored by a multi- national corporation launching some product or movie. Nobody throws a great party for the sheer heck of it.

Gone are the great hostess’ of the last couple of decades of the twentieth century, and none knew how to throw a party more than Marie-Helene de Rothschild!

With savoir faire, and sheer determination she had the imagination to plan, create and hold grand soirees that would be constantly described as the best parties of the respective decade. With sheer ruthlessness she would attend to every detail ensuring complete success.

Forever in quest of new talent and new figures to entertain from the world of the arts, literature, dance and haute couture, she mixed them with the more established set of Paris society. Everyone was intrigued. Marie-Hélène's parties took on such importance that one social figure threatened to commit suicide unless she was invited...

One such grand fete was her Surrealist Ball held at her chateau Ferriéres, in December 1972.

Guests were asked to come in black tie and long dresses with Surrealist heads.

The invitation was printed with reversed writing on a blue and cloudy sky, inspired by a painting by Magritte. To decipher the card, it had to be held to a mirror.

For the evening the chateau was floodlit with moving orange lights to give the impression that it was on fire. The staircase inside was lined by footmen dressed as cats that appeared to have fallen asleep in a variety of staged poses.

To enter into the party Guests had to pass through a kind of labyrinth of Hell, made of black ribbons to look like cobwebs. The occasional cat appeared to rescue the guests and lead them to the tapestry salon. Here they were greeted by their hostess Marie-Hélène wearing the head of a giant donkey weeping tears made of diamonds.

Tables were decorated in a variety of surrealistic themes inspired by de Chirico, Magritte and Dali which shocked and astounded the guests for their originality.

"It's a very healthy thing to give parties, don't you think?" she once said. "But people don't know how to dress any more - it breaks my heart. People have even lost the taste for perfumes. Nothing is done now for good taste or for the beauty of things, but to appeal to people's lowest instincts."


  1. now that's a party!....1972 was a very good year for creativity...people were very open to change and everybody was into being different....the world changed in the 60's and 70's...and everybody had fun doing it......

  2. Hello David:
    Oh to have been on the guest list of the 'Surreal Ball'. We know that we should have loved it all and what marvellous images of the event you treat us to here. What Marie-Helene would have thought about how people dress nowadays defies description, we are certain!

    We do think it sad that such extravagant and wild parties seem to be no more. A revival of the art of party giving is called for!!

  3. That Ball would have been the most memorable ever to attend! So much artistry and creativity.


    Art by Karena

  4. You are right. I was once invited by the Baron de Rothschild to a dinner at Chateau Lafitte in Bordeaux, to be seated by Joe Gallo, a scion of the bulk wine producer Californian Gallo family. Everything was about selling and buying wine, glamour wasn't even the excuse.
    But I met a very nice couple there, of the other, bucolic glamour, and I posted a little piece about them some time ago that has now come to my mind:

  5. Now that is a party that you cannot decide to go to at the last minute :) to think of all the preparation that went into organizing it or even attending

  6. Maybe the problem isn't only that hosts are too unwilling and non-creative to hold these bashes. Sometimes the guests are unresponsive and passively unwilling to contribute to the spirit and excitement, which is vital for an affair like the one you describe.

    There are a lot of good ideas here for a Halloween party, which coincidentally is coming up soon, and for which people usually get their creative juices flowing.

    The only bright note (for me) is that "People have even lost the taste for perfumes"--to which I am allergic!

    --Road to Parnassus

  7. What a great post !
    The invitation was fabulous. It was extravagant parties.
    The hostesses were always perfect and knew receive. The artists of that time were fantastic.

  8. I host as often as I can- we love to entertain- This party is such an inspiration.

  9. Well the answer to the question why we don't have that kind of parties is in the last lines of your post in Baroness ' words

    "But people don't know how to dress any more - it breaks my heart. People have even lost the taste for perfumes. Nothing is done now for good taste or for the beauty of things, but to appeal to people's lowest instincts."

    ALso I think we live in a world of political correctness, you can not go extravagant or wild now

  10. david! I say we save our money and throw a kick ass party like this... We will top them all.... I agree though, back then they knew how to throw an amazing and elegant party..

    Cheers! ~Angel

  11. Do you like the dress in my latest video?
    The pearl necklace is from my great grandmother and it's so beautiful... Makes every dress look very elegant.
    And my perfume is Lola. Marc Jacobs.
    I'm waiting for a party invitation to wear this ensemble again.
    For a surreal party I'd wear it with a garlic-hat. *lol*

  12. Amazing. I'm curious to see what the rest of Audrey Hepburn's costume looked like.

  13. I hate political correctness. Luckily, I'm not the only one. As someone said, it's just a “tyranny with a happy face.”

  14. Her lament, the last lines, though has been around for every age. Everyone always says, 'they don't do it like this anymore' but that's a good thing maybe. Things continue to change. Maybe we don't have these crazy balls anymore but other events are just as coveted, like the Met Ball, or even the opening of the Met Opera. Or invitation to your own Saturday night soiree.

  15. I agree with Parnassus about the passiveness of guests, which I am noticing these days even at more informal gatherings. In other times there was a certain realization by guests that they had an obligation to contribute to an evening; in a way, it was their part of a social contract.

    Great photos!

  16. Oh...we have that every year down's called mardi gras. :)

  17. I'm meant to have a Surrealist Party chez-moi and that's how I stumbled upon your blog. Quel post! :)

  18. Goodness, I would so have loved to even be a fly on the wall at this Surrealist Party! Was that really Dalí at the party or just someone in costume? Anyhow, you have inspired my thinking for the Halloween season. My husband and I always used to have "theme" parties, though on a much smaller scale than this grande fète.

    Hope you feel better.

  19. @everyone lol


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