Why do we gather in rooms to clink glasses and share stories?

BY SHINAN GOVANI

As far as parties go, it was more of a gust than a gentle breeze.

Descending on the historic Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild one night in Paris a few years back, it seemed to me like the whole glamour pack was out—Karl Lagerfeld looming like a jack-o’-lantern, Kate Moss appearing out of the mist, Kanye West sailing past Valentino. With hundreds of crisscrossing candles greeting us in the dead-dark courtyard, and then lighting our way up the stairs where we were saluted by a Rockettes-like line of hunks donned in guy-liner, the whole effect of the bash, I remember thinking, was that of a bachelor party held for Lestat de Lioncourt the vampire, in a space right out of Eyes Wide Shut, two Cruise wives ago.

What else do I remember? That at one point, at a time shuttling toward dawn, when basically the entire fashion elite had started to sway and the champagne had soaked, the song Love Is in the Air came on. It was so much fun, but also so sad at the same time, because it struck me that everyone in the room—every single one of us—was going to be dead one day.

The Great Gatsby

Am I being a touch maudlin, perhaps? Forgive moi.

Because human beings are social creatures by nature—not unlike elephants, or various hyper-social species of ants and bees—we seem to be hard-wired to mark occasions with varying senses of import, via gatherings and shindigs. Invariably, we mark time with them—not just the one-night-in-Paris, lucky-to-be-there glam-bam variety, but, more frequently, with birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, engagements, and, naturally, wakes. And because humans carry the weight of mortality at all times—unlike animals, we know there’s one way this is all going anyway—the idea of time is engraved right into our social interactions, especially the fun ones. (I’m assuming, though cannot confirm, that this applies to Tupperware parties, too.)

The history of the dinner party, in particular—one which’ll manifest in a myriad of ways as the fall social season revs up this year—goes back to the ancients. Even Socrates, in BC-time, had recommendations of what were and were not proper funnels of conversations at such functions.

Me, I’m no Socrates, but this is my one itty-bitty suggestion for the social circuit: it’s best not to talk about your cleanse.

In the pantheon of entertaining, one can’t not mention the Gilded-Age-sprung Elsie de Wolfe, the godmother of decorators once dubbed the “monster of frivolity” and someone so famous she was even name-checked in songs by Noel Coward and Cole Porter. Innovating many party tricks at her stead in Versailles, she made people salivate for invitations, and once arrived at one of her dos riding a pink elephant.

Across the pond in New York, in the late 19th century, Mrs Astor mercilessly ruled the coop. Being invited by the grande dame, and her alone, signalled you were in the cozy confines of Society, with dinner guests, specifically, called to seat at eight o’clock, and expected to depart sharply at eleven. Her candelabras, I understand, were far-out.

No list of the greatest parties of all time would be complete without mention of the “Circus Party” hosted by uber-mogul William Randolph Hearst in 1937, together with his perma-mistress Marion Davis (there was a carousel); Bianca Jagger’s 30th at Studio 54, in 1977 (no, she didn’t ride into the club, per se, on a white horse, as goes the myth, but she did slither around on one later); Malcolm Forbes’ 70th, held in Tangier in 1989 (the baron flew 800 guests there on three planes, including his co-host Elizabeth Taylor); and, of course, Truman Capote’s too-famous Black and White Ball, at the Plaza Hotel in 1966. (The guest list for which he “leaked” to The New York Times, thus forcing the uninvited to make up excuses to be in Paris or Monte Carlo—anywhere but Manhattan!).

These days, anthropologists could do nothing better than study the annual glitz-a-thin hosted by Graydon Carter every year—his Vanity Fair Oscar party that I’ve been fortunate to attend a few times. Where the work ends and the fun begins, who can tell at this particular one, though? An all-out union of money, society, Hollywood, art, media, business, and awesome décolletage, it’s the kind of party that always reminds me that behind the high-end mirth lies so much jockeying, and so much deal-making—something that, regardless, makes it all deeply, terribly human.

To be social is to be alive.


3 Epic Movie Parties

If these scenes don’t make you feel alive, we don’t know what will.

festivalstyle_odetoentertaining_gatsby1. The Great Gatsby, 2013,

festivalstyle_odetoentertaining_tiffany
2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961,

festivalstyle_odetoentertaining_marie3. Marie Antoinette, 2006