“Gala Soirée at Maxims” by Gyula Halász Brassaï, 1949
Shot during the early 1930s, through the use of two mirrors, the café feels crowded by its upper-class patrons, although only fifteen were truly present at the time.
Russian Dress Code at Maxim’s
Monday, October 20, 2003
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Dear Parler Paris Reader,
“We’re going to Maxim’s,” he said.
I had never been to Maxim’s, but undoubtedly it’s the most famous restaurant in Paris, if not in the world. In the 1950′s, the society pages of the International Herald Tribune recorded by then Society Editor, Maggi Nolan, were filled with photos and stories of the rich and famous rubbing elbows at the tables backdropped by its magnificent belle epoque decor.
He handed me the invitation. It was mostly incomprehensible — in the most poorly translated English I’ve seen to date, but illustrated magnificently with a sepia-toned drawing of a Russian Tsar and his Tzarina. “The Bal des Tsars,” a celebration of the end of Fashion Week Collections, sponsored by the International Committee, Cyril le Grix and Anne de Campigneul. Russian Dress Code or Black Tie Required.”
He had been invited by Anne who he had met at another occasion. The names noted on the International Committee came from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Morocco, Monaco, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, India, United States and France…names like “Paolo Vandelli Balgarelli,” “Fabrizio Ruffo,” “Tatiana Troubetskoy.” I knew right away this wasn’t my league, but dressed in black (can you go wrong?), a sequined shawl, diamonds on my ears and fingers, I loaned him a white silk scarf to add the right touch to his three-piece black dress suit.
Just as you would imagine, the decor of Maxim’s is luscious, on several levels, all with belle-epoque style carved wood, mirrors, bronze appointments, hand-painted glass ceiing, lush carpeting, soft lighting. The event started at 8 p.m. with a reception, then dinner at 9 p.m. and a fashion show by Diamant Jean. That was more than 100 Euro a seat so we opted out, but showed up for the party starting at midnight…champagne and dancing on two levels. Timing was perfect — we found a table where we could sip champagne and people watch as the diners from the main floor made their way up to the dance floors.
The average age was 30, maybe even younger. Pretty boys, pretty girls, some in Russian costume, some in tuxedos and evening dresses (mostly black, of course), some in crushed velvet suits and sequined gowns…lots of decolletage, lots of jewelry. They seemed to know one another, and if they hadn’t before they came, they did now. It was reminiscent of a debutante ball from the old south.
When the crowd got thick and we had finished our flutes of bubbly, we headed to one of the dance floors, working out way into the center. For two hours we danced, to classic American dance music, never tiring. Then we chose to call it a night. Upon leaving at the wee hours of the morning, a young couple stopped us on the street just outside the beautiful doors — “Can you help us get in? We have invitations, but they won’t let me in with these athletic shoes,” he said and pointed to his feet. “Sorry, my suede pumps won’t fit,” I said, as the valet parker pulled up our Easy Car rental and we wisked away.
Paris had never been so beautiful that crisp night sailing down the quai of the Seine, almost alone.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]
P.S. For over a century, Maxim’s has been a symbol. The most famous people in the world have graced this magic landmark of Parisian life. Maggi Nolan writes about her experiences there during the 1950′s in her book “Champagne and Real Pain“
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