Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Savoir Faire in Venice

One may be forgiven thinking that Truman Capote’s infamous Black and White Ball in November 1966 as the party of the century. Capote dangled coveted invitations for months under the noses of the celebrity of the day as he determined who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’.

However, I would have to believe that our young upstart who clamored for social acceptance got his inspiration from one Don Carlos de Beistegui de Yturbe. Beisegui’s Le Bal Oriental held in Venice at the Palazzo Labia in 1951 makes Capote’s ball look like a provincial sweet sixteen year olds birthday party.

*Orson Wells

Spectacular in its incarnation, guest list, costumes, extravagance and subsequent publicity the guest list was a who’s who of post war Europe. Cecil Beaton's photographs of the ball display an almost surreal society, reminiscent of the Venetian life immediately before the fall of the republic at the end of the 18th century.

Invitations composed six months in advance included the Aga Khan III, Barbara Hutton, Gene Tierney, Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, Jacques Fath, Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, Orson Welles, Daisy Fellowes, Salvador and Gali Dalí, Christian Dior, Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, Patricia Lopez-Willshaw, Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley, Hélène Rochas, Princess Caetani, Princess Colonna, Prince Mathieu de Brancovan and countless others .Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were invited but did not attend. (I bet they were kicking themselves!)

*Gene Tierny

On the day of the ball, the host retired to a suite at the Grand Hotel in order to avoid frenetic scenes as those whom no invitation had been forthcoming claimed their invitations had not for some reason arrived.

Numerous Couturiers were involved in the design and making of costumes for the rich and famous who were attending, with Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin and Nina Ricci designing the majority of the costumes. It was said that several days prior to the event that there was an extraordinary procession of chauffeur-driven basketwork Rolls Royce’s through the Simplon Pass in the direction of Venice, with large Dior boxes strapped onto their roofs.

Venice was captivated with the ball and the general public waited for hours along the Grand Canal to catch glimpses of the rich, famous and titled arriving.

One party imitating the splendors of China arrived in a Chinese Junk. Baron Alexis de Redé who was part of the group remembers "I was an attendant in their suite, with a fantastic Chinese crown, staff and sword, looking, I confess, rather like the last 'boy' emperor. Our costumes were exact copies of those in the famous tapestries, 'the Voyage of the Emperor of China'.

The couturier Jacques Fath and his wife, with Fath dressed as the Sun King, had to remain standing in his gondola because “his posture [was] dictated by a costume so perfectly fitted and heavy with embroidery that he could not sit,”


Chinese Junks aside another spectacular entrance was made by Lady Diana Cooper dressed as Cleopatra in a costume designed by Cecil Beaton. Her entrance which "people thought was the loveliest sight with the light from the windows of the palazzo falling on her face and pearls and blonde wig" was inspired in the Palace's Tiepolo superb fresco The Banquet of Cleopatra that was the central theme of the ball.

Daisy Fellowes came as the Queen of Africa dressed by Dior. She was not feeling well the night of the ball, so she rested beforehand on a sofa before making her entrance. When time to enter, she rose from the sofa and made an entrance that would leave all green with envy. "She was by far the most elegant person at that ball. I have never seen anyone walk as beautifully as she did. She had in-born style." Baron de Redé said.

Just the sight of all this Savoir Faire must have been overwhelming and tiring within itself, without the prospect of being social for another 5 or 6 hours! Nobody does it like this anymore!
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