Surrealist Ball
Host Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and Guy de Rothschild

Surrealism is everywhere (again), seen in Daniel Rosenberry’s Schiaparelli, Balenciaga’s 50th Couture Collection, and Pyer Moss’s first Couture show giving the dream-state art form a modern twist. Surrealism dates back to the 1920s with Schiaparelli’s founder Elsa Schiaparelli and poet André Breton. However, one of the most legendary moments in surrealism is noted several decades later, in 1972.

Baroness Marie-Hélène, married to Baron Guy de Rothschild, head of the de Rothschild Frères bank, was known as the queen of the Parisian social scene. The baroness soirees were not only the most sought-after parties in Paris but among the global high society set. The guest list frequently listed familiar names such as Grace Kelly, Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Laurent, and many more. It wasn’t until December 12, 1972, that Marie-Hélène embarked on her most prominent and most notable party to date, The Surrealist Ball.

When you’re not only a Baroness but also a Rothschild, you can imagine resources aren’t lacking–meaning bringing your far-off surrealist dreams to life isn’t much of a feat. Rothschild sent out invitations that were printed backward, so they would have to be read with a mirror. Once invitees, among them, included Salvador Dalí, Audrey Hepburn, and members of various royal families, realized how to decipher the invitation it read “black tie, long dresses & surrealist heads.” Rothschild dressed as a fallen stag, her mask embellished with giant teardrops (made of diamonds, of course.) Audrey Hepburn wore a giant birdcage as a headpiece and perfumer Hélène Rochas wore a gramophone on her head.

The event itself was something of an immersive art experience rather than a party. Entering Chateau de Ferrières, the couple’s 1859 mansion outside of Paris and venue for the night, guests were immediately met with butler dressed as cats purring playfully with one another. Once entering the doors, you were immediately transported into a maze with surprises around every corner, in which if you lost your way, you could call on one of the aforementioned cat-butlers for help.

Once making it through the maze (or giving up entirely), guest made their way to the dining room, where nodes of surrealism were a dime a dozen. Fête attendee Salvador Dalí famously once said, “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” It’s clear Marie-Hélène didn’t limit herself in the details. The table was decorated with furry plates, the host served food on a mannequin, forks were replaced with dead fish, and dessert was a nude woman… made of cake. The multi-course menu was filled with puns like “sir-loin” here, “extra-lucid” soup, and goat’s cheese roasted in “post-coital sadness”.

Although abundantly extravagant, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons that we can learn from the baroness’s surrealist indulgent ball. Whether it’s that the extend of the art form knows no boundaries of the imagination or how to throw a really lavish-themed party that might warrant a viral TikTok moment, hey, it is holiday party season.