Fancy dress: Oh, the decadence

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As we gear up for New Year, Harriet Walker salutes the greatest party style


Marchesa Luisa Casati's masquerade balls, 1910-1920

Long before Nancy Dell'Olio and Anna dello Russo, Italy had another glamorous socialite, the Marchesa Luisa Casati. The country's first ever divorcée, the aristocratic Casati was an eccentric who lived for opulence and fabulousness: she was waited on by naked male servants covered in gold leaf, kept several cheetahs and monkeys as pets and wore snakes as jewellery. Clad in an array of outfits, including a red brocade dress by Venetian designer Fortuny and a panther-skin cap, Casati presided over the fashionable set for 20 years or more, and her image reverberates through the industry still, with John Galliano taking inspiration from her party wear for his 1998 haute couture collection, and model Natalia Vodianova wearing a similar crimson Fortuny gown to last year's Met Ball.

Leigh Bowery's Taboo, 1985-87



After the success of Steve Strange's Blitz night in creating a London club scene that catered to the outrageous and the outré, performance artist and fashion designer Leigh Bowery opened Taboo, the weekly place-to-see and be seen. With a door policy that focused on what you wore rather than who you were, Bowery set the bar high – he once turned up naked, but for a skull worn as a hat, and regularly covered himself in body paints. It set the pace for London nightlife in the 1980s and established the capital's reputation for its underground fashion and music scenes. Boy George was an attendee and later wrote the musical Taboo, which was a hit on Broadway and in the West End, featuring Matt Lucas as Bowery.

French Vogue 90th anniversary, 2010

How does the most fashionable grande dame in publishing celebrate its 90th birthday? With a masked ball at a private residence in Paris, of course, in a townhouse that Karl Lagerfeld used to live in. The strapline on the posters read "90 years of excess" and the evening was a celebration of unashamed luxe and decadence. You can always rely on the French. It was to prove something of a swansong for editor Carine Roitfeld, who announced her resignation from French Vogue earlier this month, and wore a transparent Givenchy gown with leopard-print panelling with a somewhat Batgirl-esque glitzy eyemask, while Jean Paul Gaultier was arrayed in feathers.

Kate Moss's 30th birthday party

By the time she hit 30, model Kate Moss had already been in the public eye for more than 12 years – and we were still desperate to know what she was wearing and where she was partying. Her birthday festivities started at the Mandarin Oriental, with Moss wearing the same 1920s floor-length sequinned gown that actress Britt Ekland had worn to the 1973 premiere of the The Man with the Golden Gun. Guests, including Naomi Campbell, Grace Jones and Gwyneth Paltrow, were dressed in flapper dresses and sharp bobs according to the Fitzgeraldian Roaring 20s theme. They then moved on to a suite at Claridge's, where they drank champagne well into the next day and danced with a hired troupe of strippers.

BoomBox, London 2006-07

After bling and before the banking crisis, there was a brief moment of Hoxton history when fully glitzed-up fashion hedonism occurred. To the strains of electro-disco dancefloor belters, BoomBox was presided over by the infamous transvestite bouncer Jeanette and Mandi Lennard, the ultimate insider's PR guru, as well as designers du jour Henry Holland and Carri "Cassette Playa" Munden.

Outfits were cartoonish and gothic, inspired by the particular brand of streetwise clubwear that had started appearing on the capital's catwalk from the likes of Giles Deacon and Gareth Pugh. Dayglow lurex and Eighties-inspired sportswear was mixed with ferocious vintage Westwood and Wayfarers. But after a brief Hallowe'en incarnation as DoomBox, the club ran a final New Year's Eve party in 2007 and closed its doors, before the rest of the world really knew what it had been about.

Truman Capote's black and white ball, 1966

Fed up with giving presents to other people? Treat yourself, just like writer Truman Capote did, by throwing a ball as a "great, big, all-time spectacular present" to himself. Masked and monochrome-clad senators sat with showgirls, while diplomats danced with debutantes at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan; the likes of Lauren Bacall, Norman Mailer and Frank Sinatra mingled with Jackie Onassis and Joan Fontaine. Mia Farrow, with her cropped gamine hair, wore a white Directoire-line dress, while interior designer Billy Baldwin arrived in a unicorn head-dress and writer George Plimpton had to take off his mask because the glue gave him a funny turn.

Bianca Jagger's 27th at Studio 54, 1977

There are all sorts of ways to ensure you make an entrance at a party, but Bianca Jagger's arrival in a draped Halston dress atop a white horse led by a naked man to her 27th birthday party surely tops the list. Studio 54 had just opened a week earlier and Halston, the designer of the decade, persuaded the owners to throw a party for rock royalty Jagger. The club became achingly hip, synonymous with fashion, fun and flamboyancy, while Halston's signature jersey maxi-dresses perfectly encapsulated the laid back but elegant feel of the times.

Elton John's 50th birthday, 1997

An elaborate pompadour has been the centrepiece of many a party over the centuries. From Marie Antoinette's pink-powdered coiffure via Victorian costume balls to the teetering heights of Reg Dwight's half-century knees-up at the Hammersmith Palais, the voluptuous head-dress is a symbol of opulence, tasteless decadence and, most of all, party spirit. Still, you're only 50 once and you might as well make the most of it. Elton certainly did. With an elaborate brocade Louis XIV outfit that cost upwards of £50,000. Leaving all traces of Reg Dwight at the door, he was lowered into the party from the back of van.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss