Dress-down Friday: Étienne de Beaumont (and guests)

So you’ve been to Paris, you’ve been to Berlin, but have you been to paris/berlin?

Thom Ayres’ dazzling collection of images from the two cities in their between-the-wars heyday of high living and heedless experimentation is essential viewing. And I’m especially grateful that this visual tumult of dark glamour and erotic abandon has alerted me to the epochal, life-changing camp of Étienne de Beaumont.

Loving the French balletomane count is not unproblematic, no matter how magnificently attired he was. But we can leave it to another day to discuss his arch-elitism, dubious wartime record and anti-democratic views (OK, just a taste. Talking to Misia Sert, Beaumont said: “You know, Misia, in the old days Mother used to invite the common soldiers of the local garrison to our château once a year. Now, ma chère, it’s the garrison every day.”)

No, today is going to be a largely context-free gawp at Beaumont’s famous balls and the guests who loved them, a celebration of fancy dress and just plain dressin’ fancy. Even in his day clothes there is something performative about the count, a kind of Aristocratic Realness, a suggestion of ever-present sartorial recklessness which inspired his guests. We espy Sara and Gerald Murphy, for example, dressed in tribute to the motor car. Even notorious shut-in Marcel Proust couldn’t resist a Beaumont blowout. Unfortunately I have mislaid the identity of the resourceful guest who came as all three Rhinemaidens. Can anyone help me out?

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  1. Are these the maidens? I can’t place the face! It’s like a blend of Elsie de Wolfe and Beaumont’s wife (a doomed Modernist wrote a book satirizing this relationship, later turned into a film).

    I found this relic while trying to crack the case. Almost want to take up smoking just to have it…

  2. thombeau


  3. AM

    Is that constrictor real? Most girls are satisfied with feathers.

  4. Liz

    The lady dressed as three Rhine maidens is indeed Edith, Countess Étienne de Beaumont. The photo was taken in 1929 at the Materials Ball given by Viscount and Viscountess de Noailles

  5. Amanda Beresford

    Are you sure that it’s the Bal des Matériaux? I think it is more likely the Bal de l’Opéra, given Comtesse Edith’s Wagnerian getup.

  6. Amanda Beresford

    Who is Tarzan? It looks like Jean Marais. Anyone?

  7. Rob chong

    The morgan twin sisters?aka gloria vanderbilt sr., lady furness

  8. Amanda Beresford

    I can confirm that 1. the lady with the masks is the Countess, but they are not Rhinemaidens. The costume was designed by Valentine Hugo for Edith for the Fête des Diadems at the Paris Ritz Hotel in July, 1926. The tiaras were the point of the costume; it had nothing to do with Wagner. 2. The guy in leopardskin is indeed Jean Marais, Cocteau’s life partner. I think the ball is the le Bal du Tercentenaire de Racine (1939), but I’m not positive. BTW, I’m writing a dissertation on Beaumont and his milieu, so I’m happy to supply any info to the curious.

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