the proust ball

Actress, model and socialite Marisa Berenson dressed to resemble Marchesa Luisa Casati at The Proust Ball in 1971. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.

She’s everything I dislike. I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of U.S. and English taste.

‘I treated her with authority, told her not to powder her nose, to come in front of the cameras with it shining.

'She wanted compliments. She got none. “Don’t touch me like that,” she whined! Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds… And this was the woman who is the greatest “draw”. In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.

—  Cecil Beaton on photographing Elizabeth Taylor for the Proust Ball.

Marisa Berenson in a Paul Poiret dress as the Marchesa Luisa Casati for The Proust Ball at the Rothschild family’s opulent Château de Ferrières in France, Photo by Cecil Beaton, December 1971.

Tribute to Marchesa Luisa Casati.

Marisa Berenson went as Marchesa Luisa Casati to The Proust Ball—the idea of costume designer Piero Tosi, with whom Berenson had just worked on the film Death in Venice. “You are not going to go like all those other women,” he proclaimed, instead dressing her in a Paul Poiret dress adorned with jeweled snakes, a curled red wig, black lipstick, and a black tiara. "When I walked in, nobody recognized me,” she says. “I had so much fun because I was totally sticking out from everybody else.

The Proust Ball (Bal Proust), 1971.

The Proust Ball, thrown in honor of the 100th anniversary of Marcel Proust’s birth in 1971, might be considered Marie-Helene de Rothschild’s greatest triumph. Around 350 guests attended the extremely rich dinner at her home outside of Paris, the Château de Ferrières, with 350 or so more arriving in time for a second, later dinner. Among the guests were Audrey Hepburn, Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton, while Cecil Beaton was the night’s photographer. French model and actress Marisa Berenson remembers the night, saying, “As soon as you arrived at Ferrières it was like going back in time, but more luxuriously with highly refined taste… . The women wore dresses, bodices, big headdresses, tiaras, lots of jewelry. It was truly the era of Proust.” (x)

“I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US and English taste, he as butch and coarse as only a Welshman can be. She wanted compliments. She got none. I felt I must be professional and continued, but not without loathing at this monster. Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. They were seen in their full shape, blotched and mauve, plum. Round her neck was a velvet ribbon with the biggest diamond in the world pinned on it. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds, her head a ridiculous mass of diamond necklaces, sewn together, with a snood of blue and black pom-poms and black aisprey aigrettes. Sausage curls! Alexandre, the hairdresser, had done his worst. And this was the world’s biggest draw! In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.”

- Cecil Beaton