The latest episode of Ryan Murphy’s new series, “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans,” recreates Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball, held at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1966.
The event, which honored Katharine Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post, was a coveted invite. And the guests, who included Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra, were, according to The New York Times, “as spectacular a group as has ever been assembled for a private party in New York.”
The series depicts the ball through imaginary footage shot by the Maysles brothers, the documentary team. It suggests a cattier side to the bash, with humiliated party crashers, scorned ex-wives and an inebriated host.
Ahead of the third episode, members of the Styles desk discussed the gowns at the ball, designed by Zac Posen; the hair; and what made the party so good.
GUY TREBAY How much does everyone wish that the Maysles brothers had actually made that movie?
VANESSA FRIEDMAN Then we would really know what happened at Capote’s famous Black and White Ball — and exactly what everyone wore.
TREBAY The costuming for the party scene came pretty close to approximating what people wore to that ball, judging by contemporary photos.
FRIEDMAN It’s odd to think Zac Posen was enlisted to make the gowns, given the news this week that he is the new creative director of the Gap.
His work for the ball seemed maybe like reality — but heightened, in a sort of accessible fantasy way.
JESSICA TESTA It was hard at times to get a sense of the full costumes, but I did love when Slim Keith (Diane Lane) and Babe Paley (Naomi Watts) took off their coats to dramatically unveil their gowns.
TREBAY For characterization, the Katharine Graham dress did the job best. It’s no cinch to capture the sense she must have had of being a fish out of water. As Graham said later, “there was a slight note of insanity about the party.”
FRIEDMAN The gowns did give the sense of what the Babe character says earlier in the episode: “We see the importance of presentation — it’s how we defend ourselves. Underneath, though, is someone who is just trying to control their environment.” That’s pretty much the theme of this show.
TESTA I also liked Slim Keith saying, about Capote, “I taught him how to dress for this life, how to stand in it — the difference between fashion and style.”
TREBAY I wish they had been able to convey his mixing of high society and hoi polloi. Capote not only invited the judge’s widow from his “In Cold Blood” years, but also a former schoolteacher of his and the doorman from U.N. Plaza, where he lived.
FRIEDMAN My other favorite moment was Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart) at the hairdresser’s encouraging him to make her bouffant even higher as she talked about her sister stealing her man.
TESTA That hairdresser scene was really the first time we saw the scaffolding. She still looks picture-perfect, but at least the show is nodding to the upkeep that requires.
FRIEDMAN Speaking of upkeep, I was struck by the grand entrance of Jessica Lange as Truman’s (dead) mother, dripping in paste, rather than Verdura.
TESTA I’m not on board yet with the mother-ghost story line. Although I do think she spoke for many modern viewers when she said, “What is the purpose of inviting a bunch of celebrities if you’re only going to get them to cover their faces?”
TREBAY It’s not a Ryan Murphy production without at least one ghoul. Related question: Are we ever going to see parties again where women raid the safe and bring out the rocks?
FRIEDMAN You mean rocks that have not been lent for the express purpose of brand marketing?
TREBAY Yep. Weirdly so-called high jewelry is one of the big growth categories for all the luxury goods houses. But where do actual rich people wear them?
FRIEDMAN Lauren Sanchez seems to wear hers all the time. I would love to know what Capote would make of her.
TESTA Why do you think this party went down in history, and hasn’t really been replicated since? (The Met Gala doesn’t count.)
TREBAY I wonder if it has something to do with it having been a party with no promotional underpinning. Most big parties now are branding exercises.
FRIEDMAN Imagine: a party where the guests actually dressed themselves, without the help of stylists!
TESTA And we all have phones and internet access, meaning parties can’t really be as “chaotic, marvelous and messy” (as Truman says) without someone recording and blasting it out. Such freedom they had!
TREBAY Also, everything looks better in black and white. Capote knew.
Vanessa Friedman, Guy Trebay, Jessica Testa, Katie Van Syckle contributed reporting.