photograph by Robert Doisneau
Over one thousands invitations for Charles de Beistegui’s Le Bal Oriental were sent out six months prior to the night of 3rd September 1951 to give guests time to design their elaborate costumes. The event, inspired by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s fresco The Banquet of Cleopatra at his Palazzo Labia, would see desperate Americans anchoring their yachts at the Venice Lido in the hope of an invitation.
Daisy Fellowes, with James Caffery as her page, poses in her Christian Dior Queen of Africa costume before Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, which was the inspiration for the party. Photograph by Cecil Beaton
Charles de Beistegui was heir to Mexican silver mines and lived in a succession of flamboyant residences between New York, London, Paris and Venice. Besteigui wore 16” platforms so he could see and be seen on the night.
Guests rehearsed their arrivals for days in advance of the ball. Photograph by Willy Rizzo.
Le Bal Oriental was the first major European social event after World War II. The put the date of the soiree into a historical context, Venice was still running on gas rations in 1951, meaning it was a five day trek by boat and train to get there. England was still on rations and would remain so until 1954, and the Venetian mayor was still a Communist. Many Venetians were still very impoverished following the war, but they embraced the spectacle of the ball, cheering wildly for many of the guests as they arrived by gondola at Palazzo Labia.
Couturier Jacques Fath’s Sun King costume was so tightly fitted and heavy with embroidery it required him to remain standing in his gondola. Accompanied by his wife Genevieve dressed as “Queen of the Night”.
Lady Diana Cooper was dressed in a costume designed by Oliver Messel and wig by Stanley Hall based on the original in Tiepolo’s fresco. Cecil Beaton took a photograph of her that night that she loved so much she used it as her passport photo.
The event took place in candlelight; the flowers and every detail recreated from eighteenth century documents. Photograph by Willy Rizzo.
This fête des fêtes would rage on until all night until 6:00 AM. It was a party attended by Christian Dior in a costume designed by Salvador Dali, and Dali showed up in a costume designed by Dior. Seventy footmen wearing liveries sourced from the Duchess of Richmond’s ball held on the eve of Waterloo attended the guests. Furthermore, La Bal Oriental essentially launched the career of Pierre Cardin. He designed costumes for more than thirty of its guests.
La Baronne Alix de Rothschild
Art collector Arturo Lopez Willshaw and his wife, Patricia, dressed as the Emperor and Empress of China accompanied by Arturo’s lover, Baron Alexis de Redé (left) and Georges Geffroy as a bird catcher
Aga Khan came dressed as an Eastern potentate costumed designed by Oliver Messel, escorted Princess Lee Radziwell, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, to the ball. Aga Khan was quoted as saying, “I don’t think that we will ever see anything like this again.”
Charles de Beistegui was heir to a fortune found in Mexican silver mines. He was a flamboyant multi-millionaire with a passion for collecting art and interior decoration. In fact, he sometimes took on commissions, designing salons at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid and a suite of rooms at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
Gene Tierney dressed as a flower girl. Photograph by Willy Rizzo.
Orson Welles, whose costume had not arrived on time and who wore a curly blond wig and a tuxedo with Mademoiselle Aimée de Heeren. Photograph by Ruth Orkin.
Countess Teresa Foscari Foscolo.
In 1948, Beistegui acquired Palazzo Labia and began its extensive restoration. Le Bal Oriental would be the first and last of the truly spectacular events held in its ballroom.
Surrealist artist, Leonor Fini, pictured right in black, creator of the iconic flacon for Elsa Schiaparelli’s perfume Shocking. Photograph by Willy Rizzo.
Daisy Fellowes, Paris Editor for American Harper’s Bazaar, fashion icon and heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, arrived at the ball dressed as The Queen of Africa in a Christian Dior design. Photograph by Robert Doisneau.
Last Queen of Paris, Jacqueline, comtesse de Ribes, multiplied herself by commissioning matching costumes for two fellow attendees. Photograph by Willy Rizzo.
Another photo of Patricia Willshaw by Willy Rizzo
Photograph by Willy Rizzo.
Photograph by Willy Rizzo
Photo credits: l’Oeil de la Photographie