they really knew how to party

The most memorable costume balls in France occurred between the two world wars. *

image found here

Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge, who attended all of them and gave two with his late wife, Baba, a noted beauty, has described some of the better ones. “It was a mixture that created the event. Let us say Picasso would have done the decor, Valentine Hugo the costumes, Georges Auric the music, Lacretelle or Cocteau or Morand would have written a little scenario.”

Valentine Hugo by Man Ray found here

The theme would be announced several months in advance so that costumes could be made and invitiations be argued over (the people one invited to costume balls were not necessarily the ones one would have dinner with). The most important part was the guest’s arrival, or entrée, for which he or she might have commissioned an aubade by Poulenc or a verse by Cocteau.

Jean Cocteau found here

Sometimes guests included professional dancers in their entrées and underwent a training program to be able to keep in step. Although Elsa Maxwell once came as Napoléon III and the bearded Christian Bérard as Little Red Riding Hood, travesties were not the thing. The point was, quite simply, to look marvelous. And everyone did.

Christian Berard found here

To record the evening such photographers as Horst and Man Ray would snap individuals or groups. Among the inevitable beauties at each ball were Lady Abdy who, says Cecil Beaton, invented size, being over six feet tall, the Duchess de Gramont, Baba de Lucinge, Countess Jean de Polignac, Princess Natalie Paley and Daisy Fellowes. Chanel attracted attention among the frills of the Second Empire ball by wearing black widow’s weeds and attended another party dressed as a tree.

Coco Chanel and Lady Abdy found here

Some went to great expense, while Man Ray appeared in a rayon laundry sack whose corners he had cut out for his arms and legs and carried an egg beater in one hand. The Surrealist Roland Penrose attended another ball dressed as the clock that struck at the moment Tristam Shandy was conceived. 

Roland Penrose and Lee Miller found here

“People had taken such trouble to dress and prepare themselves that sometimes they weren’t very comfortable and they were so excited about appearing that by two in the morning they were tired out. It never lasted terribly late.”

One party where Lucinge and several other guests were extremely uncomfortable was the Bal des Matières in 1929, at which guests were asked to wear costumes of strange materials. Charles de Noailles wore an impeccable tailcoat in oil cloth, Lucinge was a knight in paper armor designed by Valentine Hugo. “It was rather coarse packing paper. I hated it. I disliked the look of it and it was very uncomfortable. I was pleased on no account.”

image found here

For the same ball, the writer Maurice Sachs pondered on whether to wear feathers or furnishing fabrics and decided instead to cover himself in pebbles, causing his dancing partners considerable discomfort. “I should have worn shells,” he said later. 

cicada shell headpieces found here

* extract from A French Affair by Mary Blume

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50 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i can imagine the pebble dress causing problems for dance partners.

    this post reminds of a party i went to recently dressed as Foxy Cleopatra, and then I met Shrek, Stitch (from lilo and stitch) and a host of movie characters.

    the shell head pieces are creepy.

    • Very creepy

      • I love ‘em. I have a pair of earrings that I made – each has a large rubber cockroach hanging from a crystal bead.

      • you must wear them for me one day syncy

  2. I always wanted to go to a party completely naked with a condom on my nose. When asked what I’d come as, I’d reply “F**k knows.”

    • Oh no daddyp – we don’t want to see you naked. where’s TG when I need her?

    • Ha ha ha – you do that at my place and you’ll get a case of champagne to take home with you!

      • Good Lord – don’t encourage him Looby

      • I do rather like champagne ….

  3. Whow! Elaborate costumes and of course a little help of some artists … In Munich at the end of the 19th century and I think after WWI were Künstlerfeste, artists’ balls or fetes in Schwabing, not that glam of course. The bal du rat morte in Oostende seems to origin from this too, but I’m not sure. Ensor?

    • James Ensor?

      • Yes, the Belgian painter. Somehow he is connected with costumes bal, I may be wrong. In the inter-war period he must also have been pretty old and I think he never left Ostende, but I think he had some influence.
        And it would be fine if I could make my brain come up with an answer to the question where this knot of thought origins from. But it refuses, as always.

  4. Would this hat count as a “strange material”?

    • oh definitely :-)

  5. Sounds like they had a lot of fun.
    Too bad the germans came along and ruined everything! They thought their reich would last a thousand years yet within a few the world had figured out how backward and silly the krauts were. Thank God the RAF went over and taught them a lesson or three.
    Remember it was a Brit who finally went to berlin and showed them how to fix the reichstat – It was designed by architect Sir Norman Foster. I dont remember him ever thanking the RA F for knocking the old one down. Talk about being ungrateful!

    • What have you got against Germans Tony?

      • War mongering nation for a start. Look what they started, Twice! At least we ended it twice for them :)
        Germans are cold natured, have no humor and are are rude & boorish. Germans have a stone-age attitude towards women. Then theres the whole EU experiment! Enough said.

        Besides that they make great cars.

      • AND:
        We traditionally have English children roasted for Sunday dinner.

      • I have to disagree. My son had a German boyfriend for a while and he was absolutely delightful. He was so polite that he stood up every time I entered the room – made me wonder where I’d gone wrong in raising my boys. I was heartbroken when they split up :-(

  6. The bug heads are bothersome.

    • they make me feel a bit icky

      • And they completely clash with my pagoda.

  7. Poulenc is alright, but it’s not a party without Erik Satie.

  8. i made a mistake once of making a wrap dress from a sheet of mylar for an Alien costume one year. to say that it was warm was an understatement… i was from the planet Sweat Hog…

  9. I always assumed Costume Balls to be a variation of Costume Jewellry: ie cheap imitations of the real thing, like a Merkin is a Costume Bush.

  10. Love that toilet paper holder…wouldn’t put it up but it would make a funny gift.

    • I’d have it in my bathroom bearman

  11. Faucigny-Lucinge? That’s a real name? How do you pronounce it???

    • Forcedentry-Loosehinge.

      • Faux-sin-yee Loose-Ange. Or something like that

      • thanks syncy

  12. Oooh! Rare pic of Coco Chanel looking a bit frumpy!

  13. People have loved to dress up forever, it seems. Halloween is my favorite holiday because of the opportunities for fancy dress.

    As far as the cicada headpieces go, I don’t think they are NEARLY as creepy as the “gourmet” ice cream flavor created this year by a creamery up in Columbia: Toasted cicada… The creamery employees were sent out early in the morning to collect newly emerging cidadas, then they removed the wings (apparently insect wings are too crunchy for icecream….), toasted the insects and made a “tasty” ice cream from them. It sold out within hours. Not to me, though. College kids. Go figure. They’ll eat anything, I guess.

    • I’d give it a go ;-)

  14. I’m pretty sure I could rock the pebbles. Homemade wedding dress, here I come.

  15. I also keep my ‘dinner’ and ‘costume party’ friends separate.

    (sorry I haven’t been round. I’m playing catch up on your genius.)

  16. I can’t get the image of the Cicada headpieces out of my head!

  17. Should I ever be sent an invitation to such a ball, I would be going as Nefertiti. Inside her pyramid.

  18. Everyone with any class knows shells are much more appropriate. What was he thinking?

  19. Lady Gaga’s meat dress would have fit right in!

  20. Many a knight has served me on the throne, hmmm perhaps we need to redecorate again…

    The King

    • Yes I’ve got plans for your bathroom

  21. “Man Ray appeared in a rayon laundry sack whose corners he had cut out for his arms and legs and carried an egg beater…”

    His point being?

    • Being different?

  22. I’m shocked. That would appear to be the very shouty Shakespearean thesp Brian Blessed trying to receive fellatio from a small dog,while balancing at a jaunty but precarious 45 degree angle, in front of it’s amused owner. Is this a GCH exclusive?

    • haha… it’s a great photo is’t it? i like your interpretation

  23. Shells as infinitely more comfortable than pebbles?! The bored, rich are quite daft

  24. Ahem – bored rich…

  25. I’d have gone in sandpaper, then I could continue to rub everyone up the wrong way…


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