Gold and Glitter: Seven of the most Infamous, Lavish Parties in Histoy

Posted on May 14, 2018

F Ê T E S  N O T O I R E S

 Yves Saint Laurent at the launch party for his scent 'Opium'

Life is to be celebrated. You know this! The fabric of recent-ish history is embellished with parties, galas, and balls that stand as proof of the fact that people have known this for a long time. Read on to learn about some of the most lavish, luxurious, extravagant, and ridiculous parties of the past. With summer around the corner, we're looking to these for celebration inspiration. Enjoy! 

1. The Surrealist Ball at Château Ferrières in Bordeaux, France, 1972

Hosted by French socialite Marie-Hélène Rosthchild, The Surrealist Ball was one of the most notable parties of the twentieth century. Artists, designers, and movie stars including Audrey Hepburn were told to wear "black tie, long dresses, and Surrealist Heads" to the Château Ferrières on a December evening. Every detail of the event—from the inverted invitation which had to be read in a mirror to the fur-covered dinner plates, was an homage to the Surrealist painters Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. 


2. The Met Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995


The Met Gala turned from a ‘Society’ event to the fashion and art-centric celebration that we know it to be today in 1995, when the Costume Institute of the Met invited Vogue’s Anna Wintour to host the event. The theme was Haute Couture, and the powerhouse supermodels of the ‘90s (Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, and the like) were in attendance. The event was, therefore, an electric merging of the fashion and art worlds—that we’ve stuck with!


3. Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball at The Plaza Hotel, New York, 1966


On the Monday after Thanksgiving, Truman Capote held the 30th anniversary of the Black and White Ball with a guest list comprised of the art, fashion, Hollywood, political, and literary stars of the time, including Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra. The ball was thrown in honor of The Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham. The Grand Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel was colored with black, white, and scarlet, and a ‘breakfast for dinner’ menu comprised of things like eggs and biscuits was served at midnight. Having not attended a masked ball since his childhood, Capote insisted that each guest be instructed to wear a mask with their black tie attire. He wanted the party to be seamless, “like a painting,” in appearance. Each guest was left to their own devices for finding a mask, so naturally Henry Fonda created a glue-and-glittter number for his wife to wear, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter purchased her mask for less than a dollar, and Capote wore a mask from toy store F.A.O. Schwarz.


4. Hollywood parties at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California


When William Randolph Hearst met Hollywood starlet Marion Davies, his iconic castle became the ultimate party destination for carefully-selected, exclusive guest lists of Hollywood’s elites, friends, and literary figures. Guests including Winston Churchill, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, and Howard Hughes were invited to the Castle for weekend stays that included horseback riding, elaborate private rooms of velvet and carved wood, evening cocktail hours, film screenings, several-hour-long dinners, and, yes, PARTIES. Many of the parties were themed, and guests were expected to dress in costume. If you've taken the Hearst Castle tour, you know that much of it is a verbal 'recreation' of these scenes. If you haven't taken the trip (just hours by car from Los Angeles), you must! Tickets are available here.


5. Malcolm Forbes’s 70th birthday party at his Tangier home, 1989


Guests including Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Walters were invited to Tangier, Morocco for three days to celebrate the 70th of Malcolm Forbes (yes, THAT Forbes), where he (very casually) owned a castle that served as one of his homes. It was a party of glamour and illusion—entertainment included six hundred drummers, acrobats, dancers, and a fantasia—a cavalry charge of three hundred horses that fired of muskets into the air. The cost of the whole affair was estimated at more than $2.5 million and quickly became a popular topic in fashion and society press.


6. Opening Night Party for Les Noces on a boat on the Seine, 1923


Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Igor Stravinsky were among the guests to attend a blowout party hosted by Paris-dwelling ex-pat couple Sara and Gerald Murphy. They were, as you may’ve guessed, art lovers—and so in June of 1923, they wanted to celebrate the premiere of Stravinsky's composition, "Les Noces," at the Ballets Russes, and to pay homage to those who had worked on it. The party took place on a boat along the Seine. Details of the event were paid careful attention to: there was a palm reader, live piano, and pyramids of toys by Sara Murphy that served as centerpieces (which Picasso rearranged into a traffic pile-up). When it struck dawn, two of the guests held out an enormous laurel wreath, which Stravinsky jumped through before declaring the party to be one of the best nights of his life.


7.  Dinner thrown for Henri Rousseau, Picasso’s Apartment in Paris, 1908


More fascinating than lavish was a dinner party hosted by Pablo Picasso and his close friend, poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, thrown in honor of Henri Rousseau who, at the time, was a widely criticized painter. This was the dinner party that, it’s said, “made” Rousseau. Guests including Georges Braque, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas came to Picasso’s studio to learn, it’s rumored, that Picasso gave the caterer the wrong day. Quite the oversight, but the show had to go on—so his mistress and model improvised a rice dish made with chicken and seafood. Rousseau arrived to the party with a violin, and was soon honored with a musical toast that ended with, “Long live! Long live Rousseau!’”

8. Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium launch party on a yacht in New York City, 1978

For the release of his perfume Opium (a scent that was controversial amongst Chinese-American groups and was banned in several countries), Saint Laurent threw a million-dollar affair: an exotic yacht party in New York City. More than eight hundred guests including Diana Vreeland, Cher, and Truman Capote were greeted by a thousand-pound Buddha, Chinese temples, the scent of two thousand Hawaiian orchids, and fireworks. Yves Saint Laurent transformed the Peking in New York’s East Harbour into a "pirate ship” that was decorated with gold, red, and purple banners. It was one of the most expensive, notorious parties of the ‘70s. 

Here's to future reminders of the fact that life is cause for celebration—and to celebrations!

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