Byline: Aileen Mehle
One of the most magnificent sights in all England is Blenheim Palace, the Oxfordshire seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, presented to the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, by a grateful nation in the person of Queen Anne, who ruled the British roost in 1702. Blenheim, an awesomely elaborate estate in the middle of an endless green park, where sheep still graze, was given to the first duke in deep appreciation for his great victory over the French at Blenheim in 1704. It was some present. The palace — please don’t call it a castle — seeming to stretch for miles, was designed by the famous Sir John Vanbrugh, with ceilings reaching the sky, endless hallways, hundreds of reception rooms and salons, enough ornate gold on its walls to satisfy King Midas, family portraits and sufficient marble statuary to empty a couple of quarries. Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim, you know, and it was in this staggering architectural masterpiece that Eugenie Livanos, the second of four beautiful daughters of Lita and George Livanos of the giant Greek shipping empire, celebrated her wedding to Nicholas Clive-Worms, the British banker, at a splendid party for more than 800 guests, the cream of the international set.
Eugenie, a vision in a graceful white silk lace dress by Saint Laurent with white flowers in her hair, had married Clive earlier that evening in lovely little St. Mary’s Church in the picturesque nearby village of Woodstock, attended only by members of the family and the closest of friends. A standout in the bridal party was Athina Roussel, the daughter of the late Christina Onassis, a pretty, tall, almost-13-year-old often described as the richest little girl in the world. (Christina Onassis was George Livanos’s niece). Two other tiny beauties attending the bride were Victoria and Philip Niarchos’s two-year-old Electra and Daphne, and Spiro Niarchos’s youngest little girl, Ines. All were dressed in white taffeta with green velvet collars, cuffs and belts. Can we throw the word adorable in here somewhere?
Several hours after the wedding, the 800 guests began streaming up the long drive into the cobbled courtyard of Blenheim, its every window lighted like a magic palace in a fairy story. They had flown in from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States and who knows where. Then there were the English, led by the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, called Sonny and Rosita by their chums and Their Graces by everyone else. You can say for Sonny that stuffy he is not. When he went to fetch his placecard for the evening, one of the young ladies handing them out asked, “What is your name, sir?” “Marlborough,” he shot out. “I own the joint.” Yo. Maybe it’s Sonny’s American blood. His grandmother, after all, was the great American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, who brought in the Vanderbilt fortune to enrich the Marlborough blue blood with green money.
As they arrived, everyone gathered in the glorious Great Hall — is it a quarter of a mile long? — and that is where such worthies as Karim Aga Khan, his brother Amyn Aga Khan, and such Rothschilds as Jacob, Evelyn, Eric and Phillipine, were on view. Couture dresses were the order of the night, and the big rocks were out. It’s really quite wonderful to be at a party where the women dress up rather than down. And among those most beautifully dressed women were Lady Hindlip, wife of the head of Christie’s in Europe, looking like a Boldini in black net; Mrs. Gilbert (Janet) de Botton, heiress wife of the international banker, in a fitted champagne silk Valentino with her hair piled up in the most enchanting coiffure of the evening, and Carroll Petrie of New York, in a black velvet bodice with infanta sleeves and a full skirt heavily embroidered in silver paillettes by Arnold Scaasi. Bernard Arnault, the French fashion tycoon, was there with his wife, Helene, and so were our new Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Philip Lader and his wife, Linda, who came with Veronica (in a deep-red Saint Laurent) and Randolph Hearst of the American media empire.
Mingling in the perfumed pack were such swells with titles as Prince and Princess Robin zu Sayn-Wittgenstien-Belberg, Count and Countess Louis Amedee de Moustier, Prince and Princess Augusto Ruffo di Calabria, Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill (he is the Duke of Marlborough’s younger brother), Countess Leopold von Bismarck, the Marquess of Blandford (he is the duke’s eldest son), Princess Ira von Furstenberg, His Royal Highness Prince Nicolas of Greece, Karim Aga Khan’s lovely daughter Zahra, who is now Mrs. Mark Boyden, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Hanover, the Duke and Duchess Ratibor, Count and Countess Jean-Charles de Ravenel, Baron and Baroness de Waldner, Countess Maya von Schoenburg, Count and Countess Ignatz Toerring, Prince Paolos Borghese, Countess Cristiana Brandolini, Princess Firyal of Jordan and that’s enough of that.
It was a big night for Yves Saint Laurent. Lita, the stunning mother of the bride, wore his rich, dark-green velvet; her eldest daughter, Arietta, who has just had her second baby, was in his navy satin, and third daughter Marina wore his strapless dark claret. The fourth and youngest Livanos daughter, Christina, would have been in Saint Laurent, too, but she was in the wedding party, so it was white taffeta trimmed with green velvet for her. Wait until next year.
After champagne and cocktails, one left the Great Hall and walked down a long hall past gorgeous reception rooms into a huge tent that was almost as big as Blenheim proper, with a towering midnight-blue ceiling twinkling with silver stars. What looked like an autumn tree with multicolored flowers banked around the trunk centered each table, the work of London decorator Van Helden. Other arrangements plus the menu were provided by London party planners called — don’t you love it? — The Admirable Crichton. There will always be an England. Guests walked down several steps into the giant tent, where the young were seated in the center area and the older guests on the two raised sides. The orchestra played all night — the diehards hung around until 4 a.m., and those who were spending the night at Blenheim, rather than drive an hour and 45 minutes back to London, stayed up with them. There was really no point in trying to sleep any earlier with all that revelry going on. I love a terrific party, don’t you?
On Friday, read all about who said what to whom — with the accent on the Americans who flew over for the party — and what the best-dressed women of all nationalities chose to wear. The credo seemed to be, in the immortal words of Mae West, “Id rather be looked over than overlooked.”