Monday, September 10, 2007

The Party that was

The top of the Empire State Building from 35th and 11th Avenue.
In France last week, the party that was was the birthday party at Aiglemont, the home and business center in the Picardie of the Aga Khan, given for his brother Prince Amyn, and his daughter Princess Zahra.

The party started officially at 8:30 pm. Amidst some of the tightest private security many of the 800 guests had ever seen, they were transported up miles of candlelit driveway to the waiting hospitality of the Aga Khan, hereditary spiritual leader of 15 million Ismaili Moslems, world philanthropist (hospitals caring for 2 million), businessman, and owner of a famous racing stud.

Prince Amyn.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan has devoted much of his life to United Nations work. He is a familiar face on the social circuit of New York, London, Paris, etc., highly regarded and very well liked. 

The plan was for 400 guests for Prince Amyn and 400 for Princess Zahra. Majordomos announced the guests as they moved down a long tented outdoor passage to an enormous tent (which had been erected in the front of the chateau) where His Highness The Aga Khan, Prince Amyn, and daughter S. Princess Zahra stood to receive them, as they were serenaded by sitar and tabla players.

Royalty was well represented by Her Majesty, Farah Diba, The Empress of Iran (later seated on The Aga Khan's right), HRH Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, SAR Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parme, HIH Princess Napoleon, The Lichtenstein princes; TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Greece, TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, and Prince Lobkowicz (who is practically royal). And SAR Princes Hussain Aga Khan and his brother Prince Rahim. New York was equally well represented by the elder brothers’ half-sister  S. A. Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Susan Gutfreund, Jill Spalding, Ashton Hawkins (who was a Harvard-classmate of both K. & of A -- as the brothers Aga Khan are known to their intimates), Edward Cabot (also a classmate of K & A) and his mother Lady Thomson, Christopher Walling, Alex Gregory, Alberto Pinto, Maria Snyder, Bradley Geist and Catherine Warren; the great Greek scholar Dmitri Katsarelis, the recently-married (at the late Princess Diana's childhood home, Althorp Park) Andrew Solomon and John Habich, ex-Venice-based Music-lover Randy Mikkelsen, The Cloisters' Tim Husband, Marco and Christina Grassi, Lisa Fine, Marie Nugent-Head and Jim Marlass, Asher Edelman with his 4th wife.

Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth after their marriage.
Princess Khaliya and Prince Hussain Aga Khan at their wedding.
And the famous Paris beauties, Helene Rochas, Laurance Scherer, the Countess, Jacqueline de Ribes, Sandy d'Yturbe, Isabelle D'Ornano (with husband Hubert),  Marie-France Pochna, Mme. El-khoury, Arianne Dandois with her daughter Ondine de Rothschild. Other well-known Parisians included ex-Louvre head Pierre Rosemberg and his wife Beatrice de Rothschild, Nicole Salinger, Count Bertrand de Ganay, the Baronne et Baron de Cabrol, Vicomte Olivier de Rohan (one of foremost French "angels" of Versailles) and fragrance-tycoon Irene Amic — covered in jewels by American-in-Paris jeweller Joel Rosenthal, otherwise known far and wide by them that has, as: JAR. The Greeks included Mme. Benaki (think Benaki Museum, Athens) and Noli (nephew of former dictator of Greece, Venezelos) and Caroline Zeverdakis and their well-known decorator-son, Tino. Michael and Pat York from Los Angeles; Julio Mario Santo Domingo from Colombia; Austria's roving and most-worldly Ambassador Gustie Ortner; Cairo's honor was upheld by U. N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Galli Rising Hispano-French architect Cortes who attended with his wife Dina, Jordan's Ambassador to France.

Dinner was announced at 10:30. Master Parisian party-designer Pierre Ceyleron out-did himself with one immense tented room with thousands of stars twinkling against a dark-blue sky and on the sides of the tent, marvelous orientalist paintings (original, 18th century; mostly of Istanbul and the "Sublime Porte") were featured (and beautifully lighted). Masses of large oriental lanterns hung towards the walls, and extraordinary viands could be found on the virtually endless Islamic-tiled and be-flowered buffet.

No glass was left empty, or cigarette unlighted — for a second — by squadrons of elegant, efficient, gloved staff. An emotional toast was made by The Aga Khan to his brother and daughter — and responded to by Prince Amyn, Princess Zahra and Prince Hussain.
Aly Khan with his two sons Prince Amyn and Prince Karim in the 1940s; Princess Tajudowlah with Amyn and Karim in the 1930s.
The Aga Khan and his family.
The entire room of 800 fell silent the minute The Aga Khan stood up to speak — and remained silent until the last toast was over. A wedding-cake-sized cake appeared, candles were blown out and a theretofore unnoticed area of the tent was suddenly illuminated and filled with the music of a twenty-piece Swing Band playing "happy birthday to you!"

Immediately after, we were ushered onto terraces from which perhaps the most amazing set of fireworks many guests had ever seen started. The display was accompanied mainly to George Gershwin's"Rhapsody in Blue", and were mainly painting-brush strokes and trellises of gold across the night sky. Perfectly choreographed to the music, pyrotechnical show climaxed with an series of massive explosions. And then ... the dancing began; it was one a.m.!

Karim and Amyn's favorite portrait of their mother.
The Aga Khan III, grandfather of Amyn and the present Aga Khan.
Young Americans of the generation before and after the brothers were first aware of the grandfather, the Aga Khan, in black and white movie newsreels — an enormously rotund, whitehaired man sitting on an oversized chair, with an accompanying scale filled with diamonds (or was it gold? Or was it twice?) being matched in weight. He was literally being declared his weight in gold. It was a gift from the Aga’s followers. For years after I first saw that newsreel as a kid, I wondered if that was why the Aga Khan was so fat (because he brought him more gold). To a kid, that sounds like a good idea.

The Aga Khan is the hereditary title of the Imam of the Ismaili Nizaris, a sect from the Shi’a Ismaili branch of Islam. The title is Persian in origin and was bestowed upon the first Aga by the Shah of Persia. Their father was of Indian, Persian, and Italian descent. These brothers, Karim, The Aga Khan and Amyn are, however, half British.

Their grandfather John Yarde-Buller was a British peer and career officer in the British military who served at the beginning of the 20th century in India under Lord Curzon. Their maternal grandmother, Denise Orme Yarde-Buller was a music hall singer when the baron met and married her. The Yarde-Bullers had six children. Their eldest, Joan married Loel Guinness whom she divorced to marry Aly Khan, the eldest son of the Aga, and bore him the two sons. Aly Khan divorced their mother in 1949 to marry Rita Hayworth and they were at that point the most famous romantic couple in the world. A daughter, Yasmin, was born of that marriage.

The Aga Khan’s royal title was conferred on him by Queen Elizabeth II and also the late Shah of Iran. Both he and his brother and his wives and children are familiar faces in international society and international business.

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