10 Most Extraordinary Parties in History Slideshow

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2,500th Anniversary of the Peacock Throne
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2,500th Anniversary of the Peacock Throne
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To properly detail the opulence of the 2,500th anniversary of Iran's pre-Islamic Peacock Throne, you might start by considering that the country's first (and gilded) opera house was built specifically for the festivities. Held in 1971, it may be the most expensive party ever thrown, thought to have cost around $100 million. The shah flew in a reported 165 chefs from Paris to serve the best quality caviar, and even switched his country from the Islamic (or lunar) calendar to the solar, Persian calendar to better celebrate the anniversary.

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Courtesy of Samuel Coulbourn

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1. Czar Nicholas and Alexandra’s 1903 Ball
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1. Czar Nicholas and Alexandra’s 1903 Ball
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Nicholas and Alexandra were famous for many things as rulers of Russia, not least of which was their sweeping love story. But their 1903 ball, held in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, is legendary for two reasons: the opulent fancy dress, and the rumblings of the Russian revolution outside. A concert was held in the Hermitage Theatre, the feast was so large it spanned three rooms, and iconic photographs were taken to document the bright, jewel-encrusted 17th-century costumes. The Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich called it the last spectacular ball in the history of the empire.

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Wikimedia Commons/-Shakko

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2. The Bradley-Martin Ball
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2. The Bradley-Martin Ball
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Mrs. Cornelia Bradley-Martin was responsible for a scandalous, yet wildly successful, ball thrown in February of 1897 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. With the intention of kick-starting New York City's economy toward the end of the Long Depression, the Bradley-Martin ball was the talk of the town in social circles, but received backlash in others. The Waldorf was made to look like the inside of Versailles, the evenings itinerary matched that of a party thrown in the French court, and the menu, too, would have even made Louis XIV lick his lips. All in all, Mrs. Bradley-Martin spent just under $400,000 on the féte, which today amounts to more than $8.5 million.

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Wikimedia Commons/Timbreese

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4. Opening Night of Les Noces, at Ballet Russes
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4. Opening Night of Les Noces, at Ballet Russes
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To think about history's most sensational parties is to close ones eyes and imagine Picasso laughingly rearranging centerpieces and princesses toasting with champagne. And to celebrate the opening night of the Ballet Russes Les Noces, composed by Igor Stravinsky, that was exactly the scene. The party was thrown by Sara and Gerald Murphy (who are immortalized as Nicole and Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night) on a dining barge along the Seine, in Paris. Sergei Diaghilev was there, Stravinsky ranked it among the best nights of his life, and Picasso did indeed, enthusiastically, rearrange the centerpieces. It cemented Sara and Gerald Murphy's already star status in Paris chicest sets.

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Courtesy of The Russian Ballet History Collection

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5. Sultan of Brunei’s 50th Birthday
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5. Sultan of Brunei’s 50th Birthday
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The Sultan of Brunei turned 50 in 1996 with one of the most gilded and expensive birthday parties the world has ever seen. He held a private Michael Jackson concert (which he himself did not attend), guests were famously served the world's finest caviar and champagne, and the final tally came to about $27 million. Later that year, the Sultan flew in Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston to perform to celebrate his daughter's marriage.

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Flickr/Trodel

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6. Mrs. Astor’s 5th Avenue Balls
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6. Mrs. Astor’s 5th Avenue Balls
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In the mid-1800s, Caroline Astor (known simply as, Mrs. Astor) and her husband William built a multi-story townhouse on Fifth Avenue in New York City, where she threw storied fétes. Legend has it that their parties had a strict maximum of 400 on the guest list, and so it became hugely fashionable to be among Mrs. Astor's chosen 400. (It should be noted, there are other tales for how the 400 came to be). She was the ultimate socialite who essentially wrote the rules of New York society in the late 1800s.

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Flickr/JovanCormac

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7. Compte Étienne de Beaumont’s Masked Balls
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7. Compte Étienne de Beaumont’s Masked Balls
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In his day, Compte Étienne de Beaumont was known for throwing the best soirées around. He threw them often, and always with inventive themes and wild flair, though some stand out from the rest — the Flora and Fauna Ball (pictured) and the Automotive Ball among them. At the Flora and Fauna Ball, dancers from the Folies-Bergere and models wearing the latest designs from Paris mingled with royalty and socialites in a fantastical, nature-inspired setting. And then there’s this iconic image of Sara and Gerald Murphy in costume, taken by Man Ray, from the Automotive Ball held in 1924 at the Theatre de la Cigale in Montmartre, with a guest list that included a who’s who of Paris society.

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Condé Nast Archive/Corbis/ASSOULINE

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8. Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball
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8. Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball
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The stories that swirl around Truman Capote's Black and White Ball are still up for heated debate. Some records from party guests have said that the images do too many favors to the evening, and that fun was had by few. Others hold strong that it was one of the greatest parties of the century. It was held to celebrate the release of his epic success, In Cold Blood, and welcomed a guest list (strictly capped at 540) of serious New York and Hollywood society. Heads of state, royalty, literary figures, and starlets came together, adorned with sparkling masks, in the ballroom at The Plaza Hotel.

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Bettmann/Corbis/ASSOULINE

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9. Carlos de Beistegui’s Masked Costume Ball
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9. Carlos de Beistegui’s Masked Costume Ball
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Inarguably one of the most famous masked balls of the 20th century, Carlos de Beistegui’s 1951 soirée was held in the Palazzo Labia in Venice, where he entertained the world’s richest and most famous citizens. It was the first grand affair post-World War II, and as such, guests went all out. Costumes were elaborate, guests arrived to expectant and cheering fans who lined the Grand Canal, the food and drink was endless, and local firemen were hired to create a human pyramid.  

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Courtesy of Scala Regia/The Memoirs of the Baron de Redé by Hugo Vickers

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10. Paul Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night
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10. Paul Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night
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Inarguably one of the most famous masked balls of the 20th century, Carlos de Beistegui’s 1951 soirée was held in the Palazzo Labia in Venice, where he entertained the world’s richest and most famous citizens. It was the first grand affair post-World War II, and as such, guests went all out. Costumes were elaborate, guests arrived to expectant and cheering fans who lined the Grand Canal, the food and drink was endless, and local firemen were hired to create a human pyramid.  

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Courtesy of Scala Regia/The Memoirs of the Baron de Redé by Hugo Vickers