Marie-Hélène de Rothschild was a French socialite and prominent member of Parisian high-society who came from the famous Rothschild banking family of France. She made the most of her post as a socialite by hosting exclusive events for the rich and famous at her family’s multiple enormous mansions. On 12/12/72, she hosted a Surrealist Ball at Château de Ferrières that, despite the standard secrecy and privacy around the event, had rare photos surface of what went on behind closed doors.
The events were of course invitation only, and the invitations weren’t exactly boilerplate. The guests received this, which was written in reverse and in script, requiring a mirror to be read. Inversion was part of the pseudo-satanic experience.
On the day of the event, the Château de Ferrières was lit in red for the event to give the appearance of a building on fire. Rothschild mansions hosted occult parties in real life and in cinema – scenes from Roman Polanski’s “9th Gate” were filmed there, and another Rothschild mansion, Mentmore Towers, was used for scenes in “Eyes Wide Shut”. When guests entered, the staircase was lined by footmen dressed as cats that appeared to have fallen asleep in a variety of staged poses. Once inside, guests had to pass through a kind of labyrinth of Hell, made of black ribbons to look like cobwebs. A “cat” would appear to rescue the guests and lead them to the tapestry salon.
The hosts would be waiting: Guy de Rothschild & Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. Marie-Hélène was sporting a horned “giant’s head” with tears made from real diamonds.
Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and Baron Alexis de Redé.
A closer look at the mask of Baron Alexis de Redé, which was designed by Salvador Dalí.
Marie-Hélène has her mask removed here, presumably to provide a bit of a warmer welcome.
Party-goers costumes were very unique, and often meant to hold a deeper meaning. This one is in reference to the famous painting The Son of Man, which in turn made a biblical reference to Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden.
The Rothschild parties would attract many celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Here, Baron Alexis de Redé sits next to Mrs. Espírito Santo.
Birdcages were very popular at the parties.
Even Audrey Hepburn sported one.
Salvador Dali himself was in attendance at the social. Here he sits in front of his famous depiction of Mae West.
The diner table is dressed with pleasantries such as dismembered dolls and cracked skulls. Have a seat.
A nude mannequin lies across this buffet table, covered only by a few scant but well-placed roses.
The table setting for each guest, complete with a furry plate.
The hosts were interested in surrealism, and this can be seen throughout the costumes worn by the guests.
At first glance, it’s easy to miss the third head in this couple’s picture.
Hélène Rochas sits with a modified phonograph player strapped to her head.
These parties were viewed so importantly in society that one social figure threatened to commit suicide unless she was invited. As attendee Baron Alexis de Redé commented of his host “Marie-Hélène proved that she had the flare and imagination to create something unique and worthwhile. None of this was created by charm alone. It needed a degree of ruthless determination. She attended to every minute detail of style in her life & also in her entertaining.”
Well, the devil is the details…and maybe attending the party too.