Paul Poiret and his wife Denise in 1911 at his “Thousand and Second Night” party
As anyone who reads The Salonniere knows, “parties with a purpose” are what we love to celebrate. Whether we’re highlighting a clever fundraiser or shining a light on the Salonniere 100 honorees who leverage the power of parties to bring joy to others while building awareness and raising funds for important causes, we exist to raise a glass to the important role that parties play in our lives.
Parties are often used to promote businesses, and one of the best and most famous examples of this is the “Thousand and Second Night Party.” Held in Paris on June 24, 1911, the Persian-themed party was hosted by Paul Poiret (1879-1944), a French couturier and innate public relations pro, as a creative way to promote his new avant-garde collection of—you guessed it— Persian-inspired fashions. While costume balls had been popular for decades, this one struck a chord—it was the first hosted by a creative tradesman rather than an aristocrat.
The ornate invitation was designed by Raoul Dufy and George Lepape.
The invitation, a collaboration between Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy and illustrator George Lepape, stated that “A costume borrowed from Oriental tales is an absolute must.” Guests who didn’t abide by the dress code—and Poiret knew there would be more than a few—would be asked to change into garments from his upcoming collection, which included lampshade tunics and harem pants.
So, our clever party host didn’t just throw a party, he also hosted a fashion show starring his radical fashions and featuring his guests as the models. As you can imagine, his fashions became the topic of discussion that evening since many of designs were considered quite scandalous at the time.
Poiret (center) poses with a group of guests at his “Thousand and Second Night” party.
The party’s décor was just as inventive. His 300 guests arrived at a dream-like scene with parrots, macaws, and monkeys perched in lantern-lit trees and pink ibis birds prancing about. Multi-colored seat cushions covered the floor, and the bar was spot-lit to highlight the many jewel-toned liqueurs Poiret was serving along with Champagne, oysters, and other delicacies.
Poiret played the role of gracious host and “sultan,” welcoming guests from a green-and-gold throne wearing a jeweled turban and caftan, while his muse and wife Denise lolled nearby in a golden cage.
Worn at the “Thousand and Second Night” party, this Poiret design was a highlight of “Poiret: King of Fashion,” a 2007 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.
The party’s entertainment included a “prophetess” with diamond-encrusted teeth, a potter throwing bowls on his potter’s wheel, and a magician making brightly-colored fruit disappear and then reappear.
As a party, Poiret’s “Thousand and Second Night Party” was a huge hit—it is still considered one of the best parties in history. But did his soirée work as a publicity stunt? Vogue called his new collection “modern magic,” and the harem pant, which he introduced to Western fashion that evening, endures today as a classic fashion element. For the man who believed he’d been a Persian prince in a previous life, it’s not surprising that his “Thousand and Second Night Party” has left an enduring mark in the sands of time.
George Lepape gave this illustration of Denise Poiret at the Thousand and Second Night party to the hostess as a thank-you gift.
And here are a few more stories we think that you’ll enjoy:
A look back at Le Bal Oriental, known as “the party of the century”
A look back at the Surrealist Ball
A profile of Elsa Maxwell, one of the greatest party hosts of all time