As post-lockdown dinner party invites tempt us out from isolation, we’re brushing up on our chit chat, dusting off strange objects also known as shoes and preparing ourselves for that curious thing called human interaction.
Having spent the majority of the last 12 months exhausting BFI Player’s back catalogue, doing an awful lot of walking, working and not much else, we’re perhaps not the animated, cultivated conversationalists we once were. With the help of history’s most charismatic socialites and engaging raconteurs, we’ve compiled an assortment of tips and tricks to ensure you’re the belle of the ball - or at the very least, your next pandemic-compliant soiree.
“Life is a party. Dress for it.”
So extolled Audrey Hepburn (whose most fabulous party look has to be the rattan birdcage head dress she wore to The Surrealist Ball in 1972), and we’re inclined to agree. Nothing improves one’s mood - and confidence - like a well-chosen outfit. Just ask Alice Vanderbilt, who arrived at her sister-in-law’s Vanderbilt Ball wearing a shimmering gold gown containing a built-in battery to power a light bulb, which she held up like the Statue of Liberty.
Marella Agnelli (in a swan mask) and Gianni Agnelli arriving at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in the Grand Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, 1966, WWD Archive.
Give people something to talk about
Whether you’ve been enjoying Bancone’s at-home pasta kits, Katy Hessel’s The Great Women Artists podcast or BFI Player’s Jean Luc Godard back catalogue, banish awkward silences by sharing your favourite lockdown discoveries and re-discoveries. And compare spring/summer plans with your suppermates. Booked tickets to Max Richter’s upcoming performance at the soon-to-open Crystal Palace Bowl this summer? Eagerly anticipating the release of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary on Truman Capote and Tennesee Williams? As Gloria Steinem said, “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.”
“Scandal is the least excusable of all conversational vulgarities.”
So said John H. Young in Our Deportment, an 1882 etiquette manual. Lovers of gossip Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol firmly disagreed. “Hear no evil, speak no evil, and you won’t be invited to cocktail parties”, quipped Wilde. Make of that what you will.
Have fun - and lots of it
Take inspiration from Catherine de Rambouillet, a famed society hostess who invented ‘the salon’ by inviting 17th century-France’s greatest thinkers and conversationalists into her home. A Mondo woman through and through, Rambouillet knew how to have fun; when a writer called Voiture brought dancing bears with him, she arranged for his poems to be printed under someone else’s name and jokingly suggested he’d plagiarised the work. Hilarity ensued.
Racquel Welch and Marcello Mastroianni on set at Rome's Cinecittà studios in 1966. Photograph: Marcello Geppetti/MGMC/Solares Fondazione delle Arti.
Make a memorable entrance (or exit)
Take notes from Bianca Jagger, who rode into Studio 54 upon a white horse, or composer Igor Stravinsky, who celebrated the end of Les Noces’ premiere party (thrown in his honour) by jumping through an enormous laurel wreath. An element of surprise is paramount.
Bianca Jagger rides into Studio 54 on a white horse during her birthday celebrations in 1977. Getty Images / Rose Hartman
“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.”
Truman Capote continued, “That's why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.” Undivided attention is the perfect guest’s secret weapon. At the very least, you’ll flatter your fellow guest; at best, you’ll be entertained by fascinating stories and absorb specialised wisdom. “I took advice from none but the best,” said Peggy Guggenheim. “I listened, how I listened! That's how I finally became my own expert.” If it works for our Mondo muse...