Mr. Black marks two years of revelry at Bardot in Hollywood this coming Tuesday with a Grand Masquerade Ball and we expect to see the ultimate in fanciful frocks (and face coverings) for the fete. Yes, we’ll be there shooting it, and yes, we’re already sweating our costume. For those of you about to start planning your own ensemble for the grand affair, read this look back at some of history’s most exciting masked soirees for inspiration. See you (well, see your mask) there! -LL
By Bobby Webster
On November 28, 1966, Truman Capote, an elite member of New York society and the author of In Cold Blood, threw a party. He wanted to celebrate his masterwork, and he relished in being among the rich, powerful and beautiful. On the invite, he asked his 540 guests to wear black and white, and to wear masks. Among the guests were Mia Farrow, Frank Sinatra, Andy Warhol, Candice Bergen, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, and Norman Mailer. Paparazzi — who undoubtedly heard of the event weeks before that November evening — lined the Plaza, capturing beautiful shots of the evening’s opulence.
Because the party held only 540 select members of Society, obtaining an invitation was the ultimate social validation. However, the masks were Mr. Capote’s way of stripping them of their celebrity, and the sexy mystery of who you might be dancing with, created a duality to the debauchery… blurring the line between anonymity and exhibitionism.
Finally the night wound down when Farrow, noticeable only because Vidal Sassoon had just chopped her hair for her famous role in Rosemary’s Baby, and Sinatra decided to continue the evening elsewhere. It was a night where the stars were indeed aligned, and the glamour and sophistication faded into a memory.
Of course, a masquerade ball is a party where its participants wear masks and usually elaborate costumes. Originating in 15th century France, it’s forefathers were the “Bal des Ardents“ and the “Bal des savages.” These were costumed events to celebrate the marriage of the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. These events might have served as inspiration for the much-heralded masquerade scene in Sofia Coppola’s fantastic biopic, Marie Antoinette. In it, the heroine, craving just a moment of anonymity, dons her mask for the chance to be young and free from the constraints of occupying the throne. It was a superbly effective scene and made us dream of dancing the night away among masked Parisian society.
These balls were so highly touted, their popularity extended to Italy, where the Venetian Carnival became increasingly popular. Masks were the distinguishing feature of the Venetian Balls, beginning around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ending on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Elaborate festivities were held, from balls to public events on the street. Masks have always been around in Venice, and traditionally people wear them between December 26 (on St. Stephen’s Day) and throughout Carnival. There are contests — generally judged by members of Italian society and fashion designers — choosing the best mask and best costume. As the photos below illustrate, Venice Carnival continues to inspire pop culture, from Mardi Gras in New Orleans to the erotic orgies of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
Despite an enduring fascination with these fabulous fetes’ furtive romance, for the most part, a laid-back sensibility has seeped into our consciousness– and our nightlife. Men have traded their masks and tuxedos in for blue jeans and t-shirts. Champagne and Martinis, once de rigueur, have been replaced by whisky and cola and bottles of beer. Sadly, long gone are the days when society’s creme de la creme hosted lavish gatherings at old palaces, such as [the original] Hollywood Roosevelt, The Coconut Grove, The Plaza or The Paris Opera. The sophistication of yesteryear has been forgotten, the masks replaced by “happy” facades. Publicists now mask their clients with what they feel people will deem safe. Rather than cover one’s face, one covers their individuality.
Yet a few dedicated artists and wonderfully individualistic people have sounded the horns for a renaissance of sorts. They’ve called for a revival of glamour, mystery, and an air of unabashed fabulousness… a return to the raw seductiveness of days past. As the poet Casare Pavese once said, “The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.” I say we adorn our faces and hearts once again!
Mr. Black LA’s Grand Masquerade Ball is Tuesday, September 20, 2011; at Bardot, 1737 North Vine St. Smart attire, including masks are suggested. RSVP is highly suggested. There will be 2 floors and 2 DJ’s for this event. For more information and RSVP, please click here.
Also see LinA IN LA party picks for the week, which includes more info. on the event.