the party of the century

Don Carlos de Beistegui y de Yturbe (1895 – 17 January 1970), was an eccentric multi-millionaire art collector and interior decorator and one of the most flamboyant characters of mid-20th century European life. His ball at the Palazzo Labia in Venice in 1951, an event so extravagant it was criticised by the Vatican, is still described as “the party of the century”. He was often referred to as “The Count of Monte Cristo”

image found here

In the early 1930s, he had a penthouse built on the Champs-Élysées, designed by Le Corbusier. It included an electronically operated hedge that parted to reveal a view of the Arc de Triomphe, and a roof terrace designed by Salvador Dalí.

image found here

In 1948, Beistegui acquired the Palazzo Labia, just off the Grand Canal in Venice, and began an intensive restoration. He purchased frescoes by Raphael, Annibale Carracci, and Guido Reni. These works of art, coupled with tapestries and antiques, restored the palazzo to its former splendour. So avid a collector was Don Carlos that his taste became known as “le goût Beistegui” (the Beistegui style). It was said that, in order to avoid the clatter of dishwashing at parties, he frequently ordered his soiled gold tableware thrown into the canal at the end of each course. (The ugly gossip was that he had laid a stout fish net on the canal bottom beforehand.)

image found here

On 3 September 1951 Beistegui held a masked costume ball. It was one of the largest and most lavish social events of the 20th century. The invitations went out six months beforehand. The guest list included the Aga Khan III, Barbara Hutton, Gene Tierney, Orson Welles, Gala Dalí and many others. 

image of guests at the ball found here

Christian Dior and Salvador Dalí designed each other’s costumes. Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were invited but did not attend. Many who would have liked to have been invited were not. The host wore scarlet robes and a long curling wig, and his normal height (5 ft. 6 in.) was raised a full 16 inches by platform soles. Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the ball display an almost surreal society, reminiscent of the Venetian life immediately before the fall of the republic at the end of the 18th century. The “party of the century” launched the career of Pierre Cardin, who designed about 30 of the costumes. Nina Ricci was another designer who was involved.

Pierre Cardin shoes found here

Champagne, lobsters, ballets, minuets, rumbas, sambas, Charlestons and a troupe of acrobats diverted the guests in the palace until dawn. In the courtyard, lordly Don Carlos had provided a special party for the common folk, including soft drinks, which they paid for, a free Punch & Judy show, and a contest to see who could climb to the top of a greased pole.


image found here

Despite this colossal extravagance and the enormously high-profile guest list he was able to attract, Beistegui did not generally warm to people, nor they to him. He remained personally aloof and shadowy, and was often accused of treating his friends and mistresses very poorly. He never married, and although he was said to have had many mistresses, his sexuality was the subject of speculation. A certain duchess was said to have been his illegitimate daughter….

not this duchess

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55 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love those Cardin shoes!

    • Me too – they’re fabulous!

      • I’d never seen those shoes before. I had no idea Pierre Cardin had such an imagination. Usually when I think Pierre Cardin, I think expensive conservative.

  2. And people wonder why the ideas of Karl Marx re upheaval and destruction of the world order is so inviting to the starving have-nots.

  3. Must be something in the air. After having never heard the name, I have now seen Aga Khan referred to in 3 places in the last week.

    • Do you remember the song “Where Do You go To My lovely”. It featured these lines “you name is heard in high places, you’re friends with the Aga Khan”

      • now you’re making me feel old – I was in my late teens when this song came out 😦

      • I remember that song. I think I was about ten when it was released. I’ve always found it most irritating.

    • Totally random thought, or better yet, memory – Frank Burns refers to Hawkeye being “treated like the Aga Khan” when Hawkeye is put under arrest for belting Frank.
      No significance, just random neurons firing …..

      • You’ve memorised M*A*S*H episodes?

      • Oh, you’d be amazed at the random facts rattling around my cranium. “You could say there’s a little bit of Tuttle in all of us. In fact, you could say that we all made up Tuttle.”
        -From Hawkeye’s eulogy, in the episode “Tuttle”, about the imaginary eponymous character. 😀
        (How can you NOT love classic MASH? 😀 )

  4. i now seek to achieve Vatican criticism! Pissing off the Pope? What greater debaucherous achievement…

    off to find some fetal products for table decorations….

    • Good luck with that daisyfae

  5. Guy sounds like he might’ve been a little Yturbed, all right…

  6. Okay, at first glance I totally thought the name was Don Carlos de Beistegui y de YouTube!

    • hahahahahahaha

  7. Good Lord, 16 inch lifts? I get nosebleeds from a 2″ dress shoe heel. I need time in a compression tank after wearing my combat boots (about 3″ sole). Wonder if they came with built in oxygen?
    And the gold flatware explains why Jacques Cousteau was so good with scuba gear – and had the money for the Calypso….

    • Maybe he was practicing for the circus.

      • Perhaps he was carried to the table?

  8. Now THAT is a wig.

  9. Amazingly, I wasn’t even invited.

    • were you even alive Binky?

  10. So… I’m the only one tittering over “Palazzo Labia”?

    • No, I’m there with you although the retractable hedge gave me an image too.

      • Was there a Lady Garden attached I wonder?

    • No, you are not alone. 🙂

    • Palazzo Labia sounds like a place I’d enjoy.

  11. These days you can get cosmetic surgery on palatial labia.

  12. I also am in love with the Cardin shoes. and I wasn’t invited either, but it isn’t amazing since it was 2 years before I was born.

  13. Naturally The King and I were invited, but we had to wash our hair.

    • I thought it was because you had a previous engagement with the Windsors

  14. They sure knew how to party. Love the shoes too!

  15. Imagine throwing a party so extravagant that the Vatican feels compelled to comment upon it. They were probably just jealous that they weren’t invited.

    • They were probably too busy breaking commandments to realise until it was too late that their invitation hadn’t arrived

  16. Palazzo Labia? Intensive restoration? Camilla Parker-Bowles? All in one post….

    • Yep, that’s the Gimcrack for you

  17. I’m also stunned by the 16 inch shoes. How on earth would you walk in them? Or even get them on, come to that? It’s hard enough to stay upright on 3 inchers (or so I’m told). I can only conclude, like Cindy, that he didn’t actually walk in them but was carried.

    The Palazzo Labia, retractable hedges, the full 16 inches. Goodness, the mind boggles….

  18. I’d settle for a soft drink.

    • How about a glass of Lemon and Paeroa?

      • Told you I need to get out more.
        I’d never even heard of this.
        Um… is that with or without the SoCo?!

      • It’s probably not available in your neck of the woods. It’s even rare to see it in Australia

  19. Thanks to that clown/monster/creepy uncle-like thing in the second pic, I’m never going to sleep again.

    • Ooops sorry bschooled 😦

  20. Those Venetian canals are not a good place for plates, especially if secretly netted for future use. That water is lethal.

  21. If my sense of style became famous – Le Gout Burger – it’d mean ‘Burger Flavour’…

  22. ‘special party for the common folk’ What a creep!

  23. It is rare that one is allowed to give the full vent to their own personality. In a way, he should be celebrated for that. On the other hand, if you reveal yourself fully, you ought to be worth revealing. Luckily, his party of the century was prior to my birth so I am not offended by my lack of invitation.

    • welcome to the Gimcrack burstmode, I love your photography

  24. Oh I have so many questions. For example, how is it that you always seem to know about the wildest most extravagant parties? Two was Daisyfae involved in this somehow? One last thing, you didn’t mention the drugs.. C’mon you know that punch was spiked with cidney- Dali was there, it had to be! 🙂

    • Neither daisyfae nor I were invited 😦

  25. Why, WHY, did nobody tell me electronically operated hedges were a thing?

    I didn’t even know to wish for one!

    • And I didn’t know one could buy leather shoes shaped as beautiful feet.. They would be my first choice, but I wouldn’t turn down the electronically operated hedge

  26. I’ve been a tourist in quite a few palatial labia in my time, don’t recall seeing any paintings in there but I was perhaps distracted at the time.

    The King

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