Look Back at the Height of Paris’s Pre–World War II Parties

Photo: Roger Schall

In America, Elsie de Wolfe is best known as the first prominent female interior decorator, responsible for redecorating the Colony Club in 1907, and as the author of The House in Good Taste. Yet abroad she was better known as Lady Mendl — one of the most legendary socialites and party-throwers in Paris high society leading up to World War II.

In July of 1939, de Wolfe threw her second annual Circus Ball at her Villa Trianon in Versailles: a fantastic night of revelry that drew over 700 of the era’s most fashionable women and their white-tie-clad dates, from Coco Chanel to Elsa Schiaparelli. The party marked the end of the Paris social season — a last hurrah before partygoers dispersed on summer holidays — and would go down in history as the last great party before World War II, which broke out just two months later. A new book, Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris: Frivolity Before the Storm, by curator and cultural historian Charlie Scheips, celebrates de Wolfe’s legacy as one of the most extravagant hostesses the world has ever seen, featuring previously unpublished photographs from her two great Circus Balls.

Click through the slideshow for a look back at the height of prewar high-society revelry, including photos of Elsie, masqueraders, various European countesses and princesses, and more decadent scenes from legendary parties.

Scheips will speak about his research on Elsie de Wolfe at the New York School of Interior Design on Wednesday, October 22, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $12; free for NYSID students, faculty, and staff.

The Height of Paris’s Glamorous Prewar Parties