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Party of the Century: Le Bal Oriental

By Andrew Burgon /
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June 14, 2015


party of the century Palazzo Labia

The Palazzo Labia is where Le Bal Oriental took place.

Image by Wolfgang Moroder. (Own work) / CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Party of the Century : Carlos de Beistegui’s Le Bal Oriental a Heavy Weight Contender

There are a number of parties that vy for the title of ‘Party of the Century.’ Perhaps the most worthy is Carlos de Beistegui’s grand masked costume ball called Le Bal Oriental. One of the most amazing and lavish parties of the 20th century. It took place on 3 September 1951.

The one thousand strong guest list would have raised the eye brows and dropped the jaw of any ordinary citizen. It boasted names such as Prince and Princess Chavchavadze, Countess Jacqueline de Ribes and Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. Other famous people like Orson Welles, Christian Dior and Salvador Dali were also on it.

party of the century guest list

Just some of the names on the guest list.

The razzle dazzle event was held at the spectacular Palazzo Labia, which Beistegui had acquired a few years before.

The building was primed for such an event. It had been under intensive restoration. The host had filled it with works of art, new tapestries and antiques.

The night of the party every bridge and all the streets by the canal were packed with people hoping to get a glimpse of the rich and famous.The atmosphere was electric with great excitement, clapping of hands and cheering crowds.

Guests arrived by gondola wearing exquisite costumes. They made grand entrances some of which were well-rehearsed beforehand.

Arturo Lopez Willshaw, his wife Patricia and Baron Alexis de Rede arrived in a great Chinese junk. The husband and wife were dressed as the Emperor and Empress of China. The Baron wore a Chinese crown and a sword and staff.

Couturier Jacques Fath dressed as the Sun King. He had to stand up on the gondola because the costume would not allow him to sit!

The very fashionable Daisy Fellowes was the Queen of Africa and wore a leopard print dress. She was accompanied by four young men painted the color of mahogany.

Jaques Fath, a Paris couturier, came as Louis XIV in a headdress of long white ostrich feathers and a shimmering white satin jacket and skirt embroidered with gold.

Dressing as Cleopatra became a highly contested issue with Beistegui stepping in and allowing Diana Cooper the role.

Christian Dior and Salvador Dali designed each other’s costumes. Pierre Cardin designed about 30 of the costumes. Beistegui himself took on the monumental task of designing individual uniforms for all the staff.

That unforgettable night Beistegui received his guests at the top of the staircase. He took on the role of “procurer of the Republic of Venice.”

He wore a lavishly embroidered brocade coat, scarlet robes and a big wig of cascading golden curls.

He gave his 5ft. 6 in. diminutive height a grand boost of 16 inches thanks to the platform shoes he was wearing.

Seventy footmen in costumes from the Duchess of Richmond’s ball the night before attended the guests.

Guests were treated to champagne and lobsters.

For entertainment Ballerinas performed sarabandes and minuets in the courtyard.

Rumbas, sambas, charlestons and a troupe of acrobats made sure there was never a dull moment.

Firemen got together to make a human pyramid four rows high in the central room.

A troupe of giants and two jazz bands were thrown in for good measure.

The general public didn’t go without. Beistegui treated them to a special party at the public square outside of the palazzo.

Wine, food and entertainment were provided.

Jugglers, puppets, fireworks and a Punch & Judy show entertained the crowd.

party of the century
Image by ALoan  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Those who could climb a greased pole won a chicken or ham prize! That was probably the most entertaining of all!

Some of the special guests were in such a jovial mood that they surprised the public by coming out and removing their masks. The crowd was delighted.

Hélène David-Weill, president of Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, was one of the guests at La Belle Oriental. In this video she talks about the memorable night.

I have no doubt that the story of La Belle Oriental will echo well into the distant future. A night where a surreal society revelled in fantasy. Surely this is the party of the century!

Carlos de Beistegul is pictured on the far left.

Carlos de Beistegui Bio

Carlos de Beistegui was an eccentric multi-millionaire, ardent art collector and interior decorator.

He was heir to a Mexican silver fortune and used it to explore flamboyance and self-indulgence to the endth degree.

He was not only an extravagant man but a passionate one as well. He wrote a volume of poetry and illustrated it with his drawings.

He spent 30 years turning the Chateau de Groussay into an opulent pleasure dome.

Check out the photos taken at the party at The French Sampler.

Carlos de Beistegui Biography Wikipedia
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