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Truman Capote, like Holly Golightly, the protagonist of his famous short story, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” could be a tease. In the lead-up to his buzzy Black and White Ball, for example, the author was rarely seen without a marbled composition notebook (now in the collection of the New York Public Library), which contained the guest list to the highly exclusive fete. For social types, being included therein was like attaining the Holy Grail—and Capote knew it. You were either in or you were out, as in the days of Mrs. Astor. (The ball was such a lightning rod event that the cover line of Esquire’s December 1967 issue read: “We wouldn’t have come even if you had invited us, Truman Capote.”)
Among those who did make Capote’s cut were the author’s “swans”; Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow; Andy Warhol; Amanda Burden, who borrowed a Cecil Beaton–designed costume from My Fair Lady; and Penelope Tree, who, in a revealing design from Paraphernalia, was discovered by Vogue that night.
Though the dance was held in honor of Mrs. Katharine Graham, the recently widowed Washington media tycoon, Capote, then flush with his In Cold Blood success, neglected to have that information included on the custom-printed invite, choosing to hand-write the name of the honoree instead. As Party of the Century author Deborah Davis suggests, Capote’s ambitions were not entirely altruistic. “No matter how many times he told people he was throwing together an evening for his closet friends,” she writes, “he was imagining an event that was bigger, better, and more momentous than the typical society ball. His guest list would be a tour de force of social engineering.” It would also keep milliners including Bill Cunningham, Adolfo, and Halston very busy indeed.
Unlike Graham’s name, the dress code did make it to the stationer’s press:
Gentlemen: Black tie; black mask
Ladies: Black or white dress; white mask; fan
While Capote made do with a simple 39-cent domino from FAO Schwarz, others went all out. Madame Grès reportedly devised something for Countess Brandolini; Oscar de la Renta and Françoise de Langlade were hits in their complementary marabou kitten masks; Candice Bergen sported Halston’s bunny ears; and Princess Luciana Pignatelli borrowed a 60-carat diamond from Harry Winston and suspended it on her forehead instead of obscuring her face.
To mark the 50th anniversary of this legendary bash, we asked 13 creatives to dream up masks worthy of the fete that would speak to the party people of today. Click through above to see them all, and below for Vogue’s coverage of the event, from the January 15, 1967 issue.
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