Baron Alexis de Redé (1922-2004) lived a life of self-imposed luxury. In some ways he was a private person living in the seclusion of the Hôtel Lambert on the Île St-Louis, but he had outbursts of flamboyance, staging memorable costume balls, moving at a level of international society beyond the public gaze, and delving into the worlds of auction houses, antique dealers, haute couture and haute cuisine.
In his lifetime he was described by the diarist Sir Henry "Chips" Channon as "The Eugène de Rastignac of modern Paris", a reference to his social progression, and by Ms Nancy Mitford as "La Pompadour de nos jours", a reference to the fact that he was a kept man. He wanted to be remembered as the man who had restored the Hôtel Lambert and this was indeed a monument to his taste and endeavours.
The Baron set exacting standards for himself and others. "I relish comfort, style, and luxury. I dislike men whose socks are so short that when they cross their legs they expose flesh. And I dislike men who do not wear white shirts after six o'clock." If he gave a party, he liked the buffet to look as fresh at the end of the evening as at the beginning, so the plates were replaced regularly with fresh food as they were taken. "There is nothing more depressing than fish bones at the end of the evening," he declared. The concept of straying across a bowl groaning with the finest caviar at three o'clock in the morning has, I confess, a certain appeal.
He insisted that his orchids and clusters of Sweet Williams be sprayed with water to give a dewy effect before luncheon parties. He told me that others had tried to copy this but never quite got it right. His dewdrops never fell to the table. He claimed to have the gift of remaining silent in eight different languages. Nor was he given to hyperbole or exaggeration. A trip to an enviable tropical island might be judged "very agreeable" - a delay in travel dismissed as "not very amusing".
Baron Alexis de Redé's collection of G.J.Cleverley shoes, Hôtel Lambert, Paris, 2004 © Elizabeth Vickers
He established various fashions - he wore two silk scarves simultaneously when going out in the evening, one white, one black. There is the moccasin called the Redé. There was also a little cake sold on the Île St-Louis, also called the Redé. And perhaps most famously, he favoured the shoes of G.J.Cleverley in London - he owned dozens. The Baron persuaded Mr Charlie Watts, of The Rolling Stones, to invest in a pair of what he called "these remarkable shoes".
Baron Alexis de Redé was a self-creation. He began life as Mr Oskar Dieter Alex von Rosenberg-Redé in Zurich in February 1922, the son of a Jewish banker from Austria-Hungary (he adopted his title, which was from Liechtenstein, later in life). After a traumatic childhood in which his father committed suicide and his mother died young, he made his way to New York, an umbrella from Swaine Adeney Brigg in his hand, and was presently taken under the wing of the decorator, Ms Elsie de Wolfe. His fortunes changed when he was spotted in a restaurant called Le Bruxelles in New York by Mr Arturo Lopez-Wilshaw, an immensely rich Chilean who, though married, became his protector. It is said that Mr Lopez offered him one million dollars to be his boyfriend. Baron de Redé was later coy about whether or not this was true, but whatever money he did receive he did not squander as he was a keen businessman. He invested wisely and well for himself and for Mr Lopez-Wilshaw, and following their return to Paris took on the Hôtel Lambert, restoring it to unsurpassed glory. After Mr Lopez-Wilshaw died in 1962, Baron de Redé became the escort, adviser and friend of Paris-based socialite Ms Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. Together they cooked up fabulous parties to dazzle the international set. It was a world that lost its glamour when Ms de Rothschild died following a long illness in 1996.
A trip to an enviable tropical island might be judged 'very agreeable' - a delay in travel dismissed as 'not very amusing'
Baron de Redé's world will not be seen again. He once told me of a spat between the interior designers Mr Georges Geffroy and Mr Emilio Terry as to whether Mr Claude-Nicolas Ledoux or Mr Ange-Jacques Gabriel was the better neoclassical architect. This altercation became so heated that one of the designers hit the other over the head with his umbrella. As the Baron commented: "It was a period when people felt passionately about things. I don't see people brandishing umbrellas over such matters these days." He died in Paris in July 2004.