Magazine article The Spectator

Living It Up in Paris

Magazine article The Spectator

Living It Up in Paris

Article excerpt

Living it up in Paris ALEXIS: THE MEMOIRS OF THE BARON DE REDÉ edited by Hugo Vickers The Dovecote Press, Stanbridge, Wimborne Minster, Dorset BH 21 4 JD, tel: 01258 840549, fax: 01258 840958, www.dovecote press.com, £45 until 31 May, £55 thereafter, pp. 174, ISBN 190434903X

The French no longer keep diaries or go in much for social memoirs. They take their secrets with them to the grave, which is why so many of the best accounts of postwar Paris social life are Anglo-Saxon. It is therefore all the more extraordinary to read this memoir dictated from the pinnacle of Parisian social life by the Baron Alexis de Redé before he died in July 2004. Living closeted in the most beautiful of all hôtels particuliers, who was this homme fatal, this silent charmer of such extreme elegance, who might otherwise have been a fictional creation of Jean Cocteau? He was the youngest and last of a group of determined and cultivated rich men who converged on Paris after the war and lived and behaved as if the 18th century had never ended. Nancy Mitford writing to Muv in 1956 summed him up:

The Barons Redé and Redesdale have little in common - he lives but for luxury, beauty and social life - La Pompadour de nos jours.

Born in Zürich in 1922, Alexis de Redé's real name was Rosenberg. His father was a businessman on whom the Hungarian barony de Redé was bestowed by Franz Joseph in 1916 in the death throes of the Habsburg empire. Redé was brought up by an English nanny in a large Zürich hotel suite and sent to school at Le Rosey. Here the Shah of Persia, of all unlikely people, remembered his dreamy languor and the sweetness of his 'good morning' as though 'in a distant dream it seemed to come from the depth of his pupils'. His mother died when he was nine, and in 1939 his father went bankrupt and committed suicide, leaving him at the age of 17 to fend for himself. As a Jewish boy with no prospects, we must read the rest of his life as a search for security. He headed straight for New York, with not much more than a Swaine and Adeney umbrella, and in 1941 the Chilean millionaire Arturo Lopez-Willshaw saw him across a restaurant. Within a week he had lost his virginity, and soon after Lopez-Willshaw was offering him $1 million dollars to return to Paris with him and his wife. Yes, she was put out.

Redé arrived in Paris in 1946, where he was picked up by the British Embassy Rolls and never looked back. He was to remain for half a century at the centre of Parisian social life which he describes with such intimacy. Here they all are: Lopez-Willshaw, Etienne de Beaumont, Jean Cocteau, Marie-Laure de Noailles, Carlos de Beistegui, Bébé Bérard, Georges Geffroy and a richesse of Rothschilds. The turbulent political backdrop of the Fourth and Fifth Republics finds no place here. Pavilions, fetes, cruises, balls, affairs and couturiers take centre stage. As the photographers and pop stars were to London in the 1960s, so the couturiers were to Paris: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin all make their first shy appearances in these pages. Out of this Parisian milieu came arguably the four greatest balls of the century, each sharply observed: Beistegui's in Venice, the Rothschild Proust and Surrealist balls, and Alexis' own Bal Oriental. …

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