Party of the Century | Le Bal Oriental, 3rd September 1951

photograph by Robert Doisneau

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Photo credits: l’Oeil de la Photographie


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