Tomorrow is Carnival, but in
those countries and cities where this feast is celebrated people already
started partying a few days (or even weeks) ago. The true meaning of
Carnival doesn't have anything to do with fashion, yet the very act of
putting on a costume that helps us transforming into someone else has got something to do with fashion. Every morning when we get dressed
we assume a role in our society or try to be someone else, while fashion models sashaying down a runway in brand new creations by famous designers assume new roles,
becoming elegant and seductive ladies or aggressive and attractive
Costumes are an essential part of the Carnival
celebrations, but while the latter are usually open to all sorts of
people with no distinction of class, the fashionable elite has its kind
of Carnival events - masqued balls.
Mixes of performances,
and fashionable entertainment, historically speaking masqued balls had
multiple aims: if organised by a monarch's court they had a statement of
intent, aiming at showing the power and national ambitions of that
specific court; when organised by socialites they were attempts to
escape from reality and recreate a parallel fantasy world in which
everything was possible.
Paul Poiret's Thousand and Second
Night Ball, the costume balls of Count Ètienne de Beaumont, patron of
the surrealist movement (even Nancy Cunard and Tristan Tzara were at one
of his balls in 1924) and subject of iconic portraits by Baron de
Meyer, and the infamous Beistegui Ball in Venice all entered the history
of fashion costume.
I'm leaving you today to ponder about
Carnival and the power of the masquerade also in conjunction with
fashion week mania and I'm doing so with two pictures: the first shows
three masks, designed by Oliver Messel and worn by Lady Mendl (better
known as New York decorator Elsie de Wolfe and as the organiser of
spectacular parties in Paris in the '30s; the July 1939 party at her
house in Versailles was the last great party before the war in France); the latter is a portraits of Marisa Berenson (by Cecil Beaton) dressed as the
Marchesa Luisa Casati for the Baron Guy and Baroness Marie-Hélène de
Rothschild's Proust Ball in 1971.
While the first picture has got a Jean
Cocteau's Blood of a Poet mood about it, the second is very much linked
to fashion: Berenson had just finished shooting Death in Venice at the time of this
ball and had worked with costume designer Piero Tosi. It was Tosi who suggested her to go to the ball dressed as Marchesa Casati and who
helped with the styling finding not only the Poiret design she donned for the occasion, but also all the matching accessories.