PARIS — The Baron Alexis de Rede, the social grandee known for his opulent balls, fastidious manners and grand tastes, died in Paris on July 9. He was 82.
Rede expired “in a second” after his heart stopped at the American Hospital, where he had gone for tests, said Pierre Bergé, one of Rede’s close friends.
This story first appeared in the July 20, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
An intimate mass was celebrated July 13 at Saint Louis en L’Isle, the church near Rede’s residence at the Hotel Lambert. He then was interred in a private ceremony. His body was laid in a crypt at Père Lachaise near that of his mentor, Arturo Lopez-Wilshaw. A larger memorial is being planned for September.
“He lived in another era,” said Bergé. “There is no one who lives like that today.”
“He was the most refined person I knew,” added Doris Brynner, another of the Baron’s friends.
Indeed, Rede moved in the rarified circles of the last century’s greatest aesthetes. He was known for throwing sumptuous parities, the apotheosis of which was his Oriental Ball in 1969, when he transformed the Hotel Lambert into a lavish Eastern fantasy with turbaned figures on enormous papier-mâché elephants and platoons of half-naked Nubian torchbearers. One guest came dressed as a pagoda; her costume was so big and rigid that she had to be hauled in on a truck and was unable to sit down.
“You couldn’t give a party like that today,” recalled Rede in a 1996 interview in W. “It would be impossible.”
The son of an Austrian banker, Rede was born Alexis de Rosenberg in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1922. He attended Le Rosey, the school Bergé calls “the chicest in the world.” The Baron’s fellow pupils included Prince Rainer of Monaco and the future Shah of Iran.
After his father committed suicide in the late Thirties, and with the threat of Nazism looming, he set off for America, where he lived in New York and later moved to Los Angeles, where he met Salvador Dali, among many others. But his life was irrevocably changed back in New York, when he met Lopez-Wilshaw, a Chilean with a large fortune made in fertilizer.
“[Rede] had a difficult childhood and his great success was to succeed at life,” said the Baron Guy de Rothschild. “He was 19 when he met Arturo Lopez, who was a marvelous father to him. He started him off in life, imbued him with taste and made social introductions.”
Legend has it that Lopez-Wilshaw, who was married to his cousin, Patricia, offered Rede $1 million to return with him to Paris, where he had a house in the posh neighborhood of Neuilly. The handsome Rede is said to have demurred at first.
But soon Rede was in Paris by Lopez-Wilshaw’s side, having picked up a new baron’s title along the way. In 1949, Rede took up residence in one of the city’s impressive homes, the Hotel Lambert, built by Louis Le Vau and with ceilings painted by Le Brun. Rede entered a vibrant social hubbub of larger-than-life, aesthetically obsessed characters — and he lived up to their expectations. Nancy Mitford dubbed him “La Pompadour de nos jours.”
“Surrounded by Arturo Lopez, then knowing Charles de Beistegui, knowing Emilio Terry, Georges Geoffroy, Christian Berard, knowing all the people who had taste at that time — Marie-Laure de Noailles — if you didn’t get something from them, you had nothing,” Rede told W.
After years of close friendship, Lopez-Wilshaw died in 1962, bequeathing half of his fortune to his widow and the other half to Rede. Taste remained at the front of Rede’s mind. He was an avid collector of art objects, frequenting antique dealers such as Nicolas Landau and Jacques Kugel.
“He was so knowledgeable about everything 17th and 18th century,” said Brynner. “He didn’t like the modern so much.”
Receiving an invitation to luncheon or supper with Rede was highly coveted. He was known for exquisite company, food and service, including footmen in full livery.
“The food was always fantastic,” said Brynner. “Ah, the flowers….That’s the way it was with the parties. They were all perfection. So much research went into them. But that’s what he really loved doing.”
He hosted more memorable parties and dinners, promoting young couturiers such as Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent in the process by asking them to whip up costumes and decors.
“The first time [Rede] asked Yves to do something was in 1956, before Yves succeeded Christian Dior,” said Bergé. “He asked him to decorate the Hotel Lambert [for the Bal des Tetes]. Yves made huge pyramids out of pineapples.” Saint Laurent designed hats and coiffures for the party, too.
After Lopez-Wilshaw’s death, Rede forged the second great friendship of his life with Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. The two teamed up on many of the legendary balls Rothschild threw at Ferrières, the Rothschild chateau east of Paris. In 1975, he persuaded her and her husband, the Baron Guy, to purchase the Hotel Lambert. They allowed Rede to keep his apartments and they shared the house until the Baron’s death.
“We did everything together,” recalled Rothschild. “He lived 30 years with us. We went on vacation together. He was the perfect friend.”
After Marie-Hélène died in 1996, Rede grew close to Charlotte Aillaud, sister of the French chanson legend Juliette Greco. The two were inseparable. They were last photographed in public at a Paris Opera gala in June.
Denise Hale, who first met Rede in 1961, says he will be remembered not only as a formidable host, but as a man of impeccable taste. “He was the most elegant man I’ve ever met,” she said. “No one did things better than he.”
For Rede’s part, he viewed his sophistication as part nature, part nurture.
“It takes a long time to know how to live,” he told W. “Though I think it must be something [partially] inborn. Elegance is how you walk, how you hold yourself. But I saw people with great taste.”
— Robert Murphy, with contributions from Alison Burwell