13 January, 2009

The Oriental Ball

"The Oriental Ball in 1969 has been described as one of the most fantastic parties of the twentieth century, and as a high point in my life. I am frequently asked what the reason was for giving it, and I have to say there was no special reason. I just decided to give a ball.
The Oriental Ball made me well known in Paris - that and my occasional racing successes. it attracted a huge amount of publicity. I began to plan it in March 1969, sent out the invitations in May and the ball itself took place on 5 December.

There were about 400 guests at the ball. Nobody dined beforehand. The ball started at 10 o'clock and went on until about 5 in the morning.

Valerian Styx-Rybar and Jean-François Daigre
Jean-François Daigre, a discovery of Marie-Hélène's, designed the evening. He had worked for Jacques Dupont. He had vivid imagination, but a terrible temper, and there were dreadful rows between him and Marie-Hélène. He would suddenly lose is head and shout. 'Do it yourself,' and then storm off. There were so many flare-ups that it became nerve-wracking but as ever, it was all right on the night. I did not have those problems working with him. Daigre transformed the Lambert into a Eastern fantasy.
There were two huge white life-sized elephants made of papier maché in the courtyard. These were ornately dressed and a rider sat on top, under a golden canopy. At the bottom of the stairs, there were two Hindu musicians, a zither player in red and gold and a beauty in a turquoise sari, clinking cymbals. All the way up the staircase to the apartment, at suitable intervals, stood sixteen half-naked men, hired from Paris gymnasiums, dressed as Nubian slaves, holding torches to guide the guests.

At the top a figure in black tunic and long black turban announced the guests in a reverberanting voice. I greeted them as a Mogul prince, my costume designed by Pierre Cardin.

Alexis de Redé

The Lambert itself was a fantasy reminiscent of the Thousand and One Nights. All about was the scent of jasmine and myrrh. The Hercules Gallery was filled with Turks, Russians, Chinese and Japanese. Turbans and false beards abounded.Estée Lauder's husband complained that his Fu Manchu moustache itched all evening.
Baroness Marie-Hélène and Baron Guy de Rothschild
Marie-Hélène came as a Siamese dancer, Johannes von Thurn and Taxis as a Hussar, and my favourite guest was the Vicomtesse de Bonchamps, an American living in the Avenue Foch, who was born as Dale King.
Viscountess of Bonchamps and Countess of Ribes
She came as a pagoda. She Had to be brought to the ball in the back of a truck, as her costume was made out of metal. She could not sit down in the truck and she could not sit down at all until she took it off. You have to make a balance between enjoying the evening, or the impression you want to make, I am not sure she got it right.

Serge Lifar and Patricia Lopez-Willshaw
Kenneth J. Lane, the jeweller, wore a turban of Russian sable skins, with wolf tails hanging from it and a huge cape made of Zorino skunk, trimmed with wolf. It was a warm night, so he may have suffered a bit.
Prince Rupert zu Lowenstein and Madame Graham Mattison

Other guests included the Aga Khan, his wife and the Begum, Princess Margrethe and Prince Henrik of Denmark, Valerian Styx-Rybar, Jimmy Douglas, the Lowensteins, and Bettina. One guest brought a baby panther in his arms.
Madame Vincente-Minnelli and Madame Jean-Claude Abreu
Brigitte Bardot was almost naked but for strings of coins and a little black chiffon, as was the recently widowed Odile Rubirosa, of whom the press wrotw, she arrived 'all but nude, her bare bottom covered by a bit of silver chain mail ( with great chinks in it) trough which Odile's charms shone through. 'Her costume was predictably audacious.
Salvador Dalí

The ball was hardly over before Nancy Mitford, who had been something of a scourge to me in the fifties, was amusing herself by giving her friends her version of events. I hasten to say that she was not there. This description comes from Charlotte Mosley's edition of Nancy's letters:
"If Redé lived in England he would be in prision for race relations. The open courtyard was lined wiyh naked niggers, bearing torches, who had to remain there all night. (One was seen putting on a cardigan but the slave driver had that off him in a jiffy!) Also there were naked black children on elephants, The slaves had their telephone numbers in luminous paints on the soles of their feet. It all sounds very old world - estimated cost, £30,000. Well worth in no doubt."

Clé-Clé de Maillé came to this ball. It was her last appearance in public. The next day she went to the clinic, where she died two weeks later. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but did not want to have the breast removed sonce her greatest joy in life was to sunbathe naked. So instead she took chemotherapy with distressing results.

I have a wonderful memory of the evening nonetheless, and its full splendour is recorded in a vast album, bound in leather and encrusted with semi-precious stones. with watercolour images of the décor and guests by Serebriakoff."


by Alexis de Redé in ALEXIS, the Memoirs of the Baron de Redé