Comte Étienne de Beaumont in his salon in Paris
While America rang in the post-World War I with the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties, France—which had weathered the bulk of the fighting on the Western Front—was raising a glass to its own version of the exuberant decade. Called Les Années Folles, or the “crazy years,” post-war Paris was an epicenter of art and culture, with artists and visionaries like Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Salvador Dalí, and F. Scott Fitzgerald traveling across the pond to join the avant-garde set in Paris to let loose after the war.
With such an illustrious guest list on offer, Parisian party hosts were pulling out all the stops to establish their parties as the places to see and be seen, but none achieved this as well as the legendary Comte Étienne de Beaumont (March 8, 1883–February 4, 1956), a French society figure and arts patron who became known as one of the greatest party hosts of his day.
Etienne de Beaumont and his wife, Edith, at one of their costume balls
Theatrical by nature, Beaumont was the master of the fantastic, fashionable, and fanciful fête. His over-the-top costume parties—which attracted Chanel, Dior, and just about every other member of the French fashion set—featured quirky themes, outrageous costumes, and inventive décor elements, which were designed at Beaumont’s direction by the best avant-garde artists of the day. His bals masques or masked balls are still considered the most opulent, extravagant, and imaginative parties ever held.
Adding to the allure of Beaumont’s soirées were his charming wife and co-host Comptesse Edith de Beaumont and the chic locales where they hosted their gatherings: their lavish home in the hôtel de Masseran in Paris’s luxurious seventh arrondissement and Montmartre’s stately Théâtre La Cigale.
Sara and Gerald Murphy by Man Ray
Beaumont’s most famous party may well be his 1924 Automotive Ball, which featured guests in automobile-inspired garb and entertainers making vehicle noises and performing choreographed car-inspired dances. Even today, the iconic Man Ray photo of attendees Sara and Gerald Murphy provides sartorial inspiration for chic party-goers.
Among Beaumont’s other notable soirées were his “Flora and Fauna Ball,” “Tales of the Perrault Ball,” “Sea Ball,” where the host dressed as a manta ray, and “Ball of Kings and Queens,” which featured guest of honor Christian Dior dressed as a lion, the king of the jungle.
His most risqué theme may also be his most memorable. The dress code? Guests were instructed to expose the part of their body they thought was “most interesting.” Mon dieu.
With his bacchanalian fêtes and star-studded guest lists, Beaumont’s antics quickly captured the attention of French novelist and poet Raymond Radiguet, who included a satirical portrait of Beaumont in his 1924 novel, Le Bal du Comte d’Orgel. But there were no hard feelings. Beaumont was said to have taken the novel in good humor.
Étienne de Beaumont, 1923
It’s safe to say that Beaumont epitomized all that was unorthodox about the “crazy years” and led a party movement that focused on pure, unbridled revelry. Of Étienne and Edith, his friend, the French poet and playwright Jean Cocteau, famously said, “They made the genius of frivolity priesthood.” Indeed.
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A look back at Le Bal Oriental, known as “the party of the century”
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