The South of France has long served as a hub for the European elite, and this party is no exception. As the crème de la crème of the continent’s high society mingle on the beach, one guest is yet to make his arrival. Prince Alessandro Ruspoli, known affectionately to his friends as “Dado” and later the “Playboy Prince”, is not known for his punctuality (in fact, he claims he has never worked because he has never found the time) but he’s not one to miss a party.
Ruspoli is the life of any event he attends, and so many eyes are undoubtedly on the door, anticipating his arrival. They should, however, be on the water. Doors and driveways are far too commonplace for Dado’s liking. Instead, he makes his grand entrance on water skis, tuxedo and all. By the time he reaches the shore, not a drop of water has sullied his suit.
For most, this would be the defining tale to be told around dinner tables for years to come. For Dado Ruspoli, it’s just one in a lifetime of entertaining, extravagant and extraordinary anecdotes.
The Playboy Prince
In many ways, Ruspoli embodied the aristocracy of his time. Living on inherited wealth, his time was filled with cocktail parties and conquests, with a toe dipped in the arts with the release of his book of poetry.
And yet, in other ways, he was an aficionado of all things avant-garde. Following attendance at one of Orson Welles’ shows, Ruspoli developed an interest in magic and took lessons in hypnotism from Welles himself. This later fueled a fascination with Eastern mysticism, and he travelled to Asia to study yoga.
During his travels, the prince also developed a taste for opium – a weakness that was second only to his weakness for women. Even Dado’s infidelities were unconventional; he coupled his affairs with attendances at surrealist Salvador Dali’s notorious “sex circuses”.
La Dolce Vita
So infamous were the playboy prince’s antics that he was said to be the inspiration behind the 1960s title La Dolce Vita – Italian cinema’s celebration of hedonism. The film was noted not just for its depiction of high society life, but also for its elegant yet lavish style, with costume designer Piero Gheradi taking home gold at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.
La Dolce Vita’s playboy protagonist, Marcello Rubini is scarcely seen in anything other than a sharply cut suit – tailored, of course, and single breasted instead of double. Wearing (Persol) sunglasses indoors is as instrumental to Rubini’s character as his way with women or his self-assured manner.
His style signature style became the haute du jour of the day, with young men across Europe opting for simple dark or white shirts paired with thin, dark ties and ostentatious cufflinks. Minimal, sophisticated and with a touch of personal style, this look came to be seen as an outward reflection of desirable masculine traits.
The Prince’s Wardrobe
While Dado Ruspoli may have served as the inspiration for Rubini, his personal style was rather more eclectic. Where Gheradi’s Marcello’s most notable accessories were his striking cufflinks, Ruspoli was famous for carrying a parrot on his shoulder – although he insists that it was a wounded raven, which in fact makes the story only more eccentric.
He was also noted for his tendency to walk around barefoot during the summer – a choice rarely made by fashionable young men of the day. And yet instead of making him unfashionable, his lackadaisical approach to dressing seemed to only underscore his natural style. It’s perhaps one of the earliest examples of the “I just threw it on and look fabulous” aesthetic.
And this is just one of many sartorial trends the playboy prince is said to have pioneered. Decades before moccasins and red trousers were deemed Instagram-worthy, they made up a staple part of Ruspoli’s wardrobe. Similarly, his penchant for colored streaks in his hair pre-dated the Punk trend by at least two decades.
His long-time friend and fellow playboy of the era, Taki Theoroacopulos recalls Ruspoli’s personal mantra: “Physical details reveal the soul.” The prince was enamored with physical beauty, and surrounded himself with the things and the people that embodied it.
The Royal Court
Ruspoli’s inner circle reads like a who’s who of art-world icons. Alongside Dali and La Dolce Vita’s creator Federico Fellini, 60s actress and sex symbol Brigitte Bardot was a regular guest at his castle, and he once shared a flat on the French Riviera with American actress Jane Fonda. His clique epitomized the then-called “jet set” - wealthy socialites who could travel across the globe in order to attend a party.
Filmmakers and writers such as Emmanuelle Arsan, Roger Vadim, and Truman Capote were among the attendees at Ruspoli’s many events. A European equivalent of Hollywood’s Rat Pack, this elite group comprised many of the major influencers in Italian cinema of the time and was largely responsible for the suave style that is still associated with the era.
Passing the Torch
Ruspoli passed away in Rome in January 2005. By this time, the 80-year-old had renounced the riotous ways of his youth and settled into family life with his third wife (a model thirty years his junior) and their two children – although even from his deathbed he showed a glimmer of his former playboy prince persona, insisting that his wife not cancel the party he had organized to “support the art of dance”.
Ruspoli’s passing was met with an outpouring of sadness from those who knew him, and many who saw his death as marking the end of not only a life but an era. Tribute articles lamented the changing face of high society and waxed nostalgic about a time when the labels “playboy” and “gentleman” weren’t considered mutually exclusive.
While it may be true that sybarites of Ruspoli’s ilk are a rarer sight amongst today’s socialites, many of his influences live on – both in the extravagant society balls filled with tuxedos and bow ties, and the red trouser-lined streets of Europe’s hipster hot-spots. Whether or not the wounded raven trend will take off, however, remains to be seen.