Through lavish photos by masters such as Cecil Beaton, Horst, and Richard Avedon, we leap inside the glittering world of Lady Diana Cooper, Lady Cunard, Ali Khan, Cole Porter, Violet de Trefusis, Fulco de Verdura, Edith Sitwell, Noel Coward, Mona Bismarck, Alexis de Rede, Marie-Laure de Noailles, Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe) Diana Vreeland, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charles de Bestegui, and sparkling names too fabulous and rich and fragrant to mention.
“In its brilliance, its creative vitality, its eccentricity, its desire to shock, and its untroubled affinity with money, café society created a posthumous image of itself as a golden age, a paradise lost, in which nothing had more point than the pointless, nothing was more profound than the superficial, and elegance and an inimitable art de vivre took precedence over everything, for the pleasure of a few and the happiness of all.” — Thierry Coudert, author of ‘Café Society’
Jeweled and scented members of café society were the trend setters, artistic patrons, and idolized celebrities of the early twentieth century.
As an unofficial club (most of them knew each other) of socialites, aristocracy, and artists, they lived large and thought nothing of traveling the world to attend the most over-the-top, extravagant parties and happenings.
Café society was defined by who was invited to these exclusive events and who was not – an exclusivity that extended beyond matters of rank or birth.
Members of this avidly followed social circle set trends and offered confirmation of what was chic in fashion, the arts, travel destinations.
They were the original style arbiters, whose patronage determined which artists, designers, and musicians were in vogue.
‘Cafe Society’—with paintings and private photos from the scrapbook of the Baron de Cabrol, includes images of interiors by Jean-Michel Frank, fashions by Cristobal Balenciaga and Elsa Schiaparelli, jewels by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, and offers an exclusive look into the world these handsome men and beautiful women inhabited.
For added spice, gossipy chapters include juicy and mordant tidbits (mere rumors, quite often) about their glamorous personal lives. These histories of this international set illustrate how café society capriciously decided who would be included (beauty would get you everywhere) , and how they influenced society, as well as the art, ballet, theater, literature, and architecture worlds they encouraged.
The author: Paris-based Thierry Coudert co-authored the exhibition catalog for Cartier 1899–1949 at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 2007. A close friend of café society ringleader Alexis de Redé and a collector of Art Deco furniture and decorative pieces, Coudert has an extensive personal archive of period publications and ephemera on café society.
CAFÉ SOCIETY: Socialites, Patrons, and Artists in Paris 1920 to 1960
Thierry Coudert, 320 pages, 250 illustrations and photographs.
Flammarion, distributed by Rizzoli New York.
All images used with express permission of the publisher.