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books But surely the real stars were the host and the Palazzo itself. Beistegui dressed as a Venetian procurator with a curly blond wig, his 5-foot-6-inch frame enhanced by 16-inch platform boots. The palazzzo was commissioned in the middle of the 17th century by a rich, socially ambitious family called Labia. (I am told the accent falls on the middle syllable: La-BEE-uh.) The palazzo’s most remarkable feature was the two-story ballroom featuring a fresco by Tiepolo. By the time Beistegui bought the property in 1948, it had fallen into disrepair. He did a complete restoration to include the addition of works by Raphael and

Annibale Carracci in a style that came to be known as the “goût Beistegui”—over the top and then some. It was a taste that evolved. His first adventure in decorating was a rooftop apartment in the 1930s on the Champs Elysées designed for him by Le Corbusier in the “modern,” concrete-block style. He soon thought better of this and his tastes became more classic and eclectic. With the help of Cuban designer Emilio Terry, Beistegui gave full vent to his eccentricity and extravagance when he bought Chateau de Groussay in 1939. He spent the next 30 years turning it and the gardens into one of the most

lavish private residences in the world. Cecil Beaton copied its library for that of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady. David Hicks is said to have been influenced by it, and Mark Hampton, some say, thought it most beautiful. Not all of Beistegui’s possessions were genuine. It did not trouble him to commission tapestries in the manner of Goya and to have copies made of famous paintings. He had a reproduction done of Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII, larger in size than the original, and claimed that Queen Elizabeth’s was a fake. When Beistegui’s heirs sold the estate in 1999, the contents alone (some of which came from the Palazzo Labia) realized $26.5 million. Oscar Wilde once said about George Bernard Shaw that none of his friends liked him. The same might be said of Beistegui, who was a misanthrope. Beaton says in his diary that he was “utterly ruthless,” adding, “Such qualities as sympathy, pity, or even gratitude are sadly lacking. He has become the most self-engrossed and pleasure-seeking person I have met.” Beistegui was a snob of the first water. When invited to the British Embassy in Paris to meet General George C. Marshall, the architect of the rebuilding of Europe after the War, he supposedly demurred, asking his hostess Lady Diana Cooper whether Marshall was “of good family.” The Aga Khan, who had been a guest at the Palazzo Labia ball, said of the affair, “I don’t think we shall see anything like this again.” The same could be said for Charlie. ✦

Left: Daisy Cooper and Frédéric de Cabrol at the Beistegui Ball 40 | AVENUE MAGAZINE · SEPTEMBER 2010

© Daisy Cabrol from Café Society: Socialites, Patrons, and Artists 1920 to 1960 by Thierry Coudert (Paris: Flammarion, 2010).

“[Bestegui’s costume ball in 1951] was the grandest ball of the century, and not even the Marquis de Cuevas [married to a Rockefeller] nor Marie-Hélène de Rothschild would succeed in outdoing it in sheer extravagance and splendor.” —Thierry Coudert, author of Café Society

Profile for AVENUE Magazine

AVENUEinsider September 1, 2010  

Founded in 1976, AVENUE is a must-read among the city’s most discerning, stylish and savvy audiences. As Manhattan’s oldest society magazine...

AVENUEinsider September 1, 2010  

Founded in 1976, AVENUE is a must-read among the city’s most discerning, stylish and savvy audiences. As Manhattan’s oldest society magazine...