Design & Living / In Pictures

Lessons We Can Learn From The Rothschild Surrealist Ball

We learn tips in table decoration and fancy dress from the bizarre and brilliant Rothschild Surrealist Ball

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The Rothschild's Surrealist Ball, 1972

Few people are as fully qualified (and equipped) to host a party as the legendary Rothschild family – but even they managed to surpass expectations on December 12th, 1972 when guests from Audrey Hepburn to Salvador Dalí joined Marie-Hélène de Rothschild at Château Ferrières for a Surrealist Ball. While their wealth might be inimitable (the family are rumoured to have amassed the largest private fortune in history), that doesn't mean that there aren't lessons that we can learn from their decadence: whether the importance of a themed place setting or an enthusiastic approach to fancy dress costumes, here are some key tips we picked up on how to create a terrifyingly glamorous outfit and a hauntingly lavish environment...

1. Make an effort
There are few things more disappointing than a half-hearted attempt at fancy dress – and the Surrealist Ball reminds us of the rewards one can reap by going all out. While we may not all be able to embellish our deer masks with tears made of diamonds (a la Marie-Hélène), there are certainly ways to be inventive with your outfit. For example, facepaints can be used to recreate Surrealist masterpieces on your face, or to create the illusion of two faces living on one head. Or, you could craft a mask out of collaged Mona Lisas. The key is not in the expense but rather the effort and ingenuity expended both in consideration and construction.

2. Ensure a thoroughly curated guestlist
Admittedly, there are few ways one can attract the calibre of guest that the Rothschilds achieved without their connections or impressive fortunes – but with attendees from Audrey Hepburn and the king of Surrealism Salvador Dalí seated alongside buisness moguls like Espírito Santo and Baron Alexis de Redé, there was a broad array of talents that was sure to make for a variety of dinner-table conversation. Remember that the key to a successful party is careful consideration of guests; as renowned hostess Susan Gutfreund once stated, “The most important part of entertaining is being able to mix people.” A variety of occupations, genders and ages will make for the most lively discussions.

3. Do something weird
The legendary Elsa Maxwell once instructed on hosting a party that one ought to "serve the dinner backward, do anything – but for goodness sake, do something weird." The Rothschilds paid serious heed to her suggestions: with dinner plates covered with fur, table settings made of taxidermied tortoises and food served upon a mannequin corpse laying on a bed of roses, the bizarre was in abundance – and brilliantly so. The death knell of any party is even a hint of boredom; avoid it at all costs.

4. Consider every detail
From the invitations (written in reverse, requiring a mirror to become legible) to the place settings (with dead fish laying in lieu of forks), every detail of the Rothschild's party was thoroughly considered. While food is obviously a key element of a party, it will never be as memorable as its unique presentation and one must provide plenty of talking points. Nothing inspires conversation like a dead tortoise or fish.

5. Practice Le Goût Rothschild
So renowned for their extravagant decor were the Rothschilds that they even have a style of interior design named after them: Le Goût Rothschild. While this typically speaks to a regal provenance of your furnishings and plenty of gilding (their "Rosecliff" and "Marble House" homes were the settings for the 1974 The Great Gatsby film and they were famed for buying entire interiors of French chateaus to reconstruct in the States), one can apply the philosophy a less opulent styling. Make your home interesting with an assortment of well-sourced objets d'art – whether that means a piece from the palace of Louis XIV or just a good eBay find, one's home should speak volumes about one's interests.

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