Tuesday, 12 July 2011

"All I want is the best of everything"

Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Redé, was a remarkable aesthete, art collector and host of some of the most magnificent society parties of 20th century Paris. His was the most luxuriantly camp world, and one we can only dream of here at Dolores Delargo Towers...

From a fabulous article by Christopher Petankas in the New York Times:
By his own reckoning, de Redé was self-centered, impatient, indifferent to affection, unimpressed by royalty and always, as he famously told the wife of the mayor of Paris one night at dinner at the Elysee Palace, très occupé doing nothing. His life was dedicated to manners, protocol, museum-quality collecting and entertaining on a huge and hugely imaginative scale. As de Redé had the money to support his pastimes and was not shy about spending it, doing rien wasn’t an empty threat.

In 1956 he hosted the Bal des Têtes, introducing an unknown assistant at Dior named Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent to Paris society through the decorations and confectionery headpieces of plumes and paillettes that the baron had commissioned. Thirteen years later he bested himself, by all accounts, with the Bal Oriental, designed by the brilliant but forgotten team of Valerian Rybar and Jean-Francois Daigre, complete with life-size papier-mâché elephants, a cabaret à la Turc and bare-chested bodybuilders brandishing flaming torches and costumed as Nubian slaves.

“All I want is the best of everything, and there’s very little of that left,” de Rede once said, helping himself to that marvellous line minted by Lucius Beebe, the society columnist for the New York Herald. Among his other peccadilloes, the baron was severely repulsed by men who crossed their legs to expose a sun-starved length of calf; he pooh-poohed dining rooms (“I set up a table wherever it suits me”); he thought it bad taste to speculate as to who might or might not have good taste; and he held that nothing less than a whole rose head per finger bowl would do, petals being for concierges.

Quoted on Wikipedia: "Redé's notoriety rested on being the best kept man in Paris: his wealth derived from his lover Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, who continued to maintain a formal residence with his wife in Neuilly. (Their) Hôtel Lambert dinner parties were at the centre of le tout Paris."

On the death of his erstwhile lover in 1962, Redé inherited half of the Lopez-Wilshaw fortune, which, thanks to some judicial investments, made him very rich and very extravagant indeed.

The illustrator and "collector of the exotic" Philippe Jullian described the world of Lopez-Willshaw and Redé as "like a small 18th-century court, with all the usual intrigues".

Indeed, the guest list at his Bal Oriental in December 1969 reads like a "Who's Who" of the upper echelons of society at the time - including Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and Baron Guy de Rothschild, the Bolivian billionaire Antenor Patiño, Comtesse Jacqueline de Ribes, Prince Johannes of Thurn and Taxis, Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein, Baron Arnaud de Rosnay, art collector Jean Claude Abreu, artist Salvador Dalí, Vicomtesse Dale de Bonchamps, society hostess Sao Schlumberger, the Duke and Duchess of Cadaval, couturiers Oscar de la Renta and Hélène Rochas, ballet dancer Serge Lifar, film producer Vincente Minnelli (Liza's dad), jewellery designer Kenneth Jay Lane, socialite Dolores Guinness, industrial magnate Konrad Henkel, Lazard bank chairman Michel David-Weill, and superstar Brigitte Bardot.

The unbridled decadence of de Redé's life continued to expand as he formed a society alliance with Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, creating lavish and extravagant themed parties with her at which members of the "new society" of the 60s and 70s were the much-photographed guests - Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the Stones (in whom de Redé had a business, as well as personal, interest) and Liza Minnelli among them. Alexis de Redé was himself named on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1972. He lived on in solitary luxury (Marie-Hélène died in 1996) in his beloved Hotel Lambert until 2004.

The last word on "La Pompadour de nos Jours" (as Nancy Mitford called him) is in a reference to his notoriously camp memoirs (partly written by writer and broadcaster Hugo Vickers), again from the New York Times:
A reader of Alexis’s memoirs is left with the impression that, along with the Lambert, it was his practice of misting the flowers just before sitting down to dine - "It makes them look as though the dew is on them" - that formed the most meaningful part of his legacy. It’s hard to imagine anyone really believing that squirting a bunch of roses required special skill, or a fancy silver-plate vaporizer from Puiforcat. But the Baron was insistent. "Others have tried to copy", he wrote, "but usually fail."
Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Redé obituary in The Telegraph


  1. Sounds fascinating! On an unrelated (?) note, in case you haven't found this (although I daresay you have):

  2. "That's what Bea said" is a fab site so far - I hope there's more to come! Jx


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