Favours and Carnival Novelties
At special events throughout history there has always been the desire to augment festivities with novelties of all kinds, especially at special occasions like New Year and weddings. Toward the end of the 19th century as dances, balls, galas and the new concept of the smart restaurant proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic, special nights were introduced where a wide range of gifts or carnival novelties were given away as souvenirs to make the night special and stand out. Later, these ‘favours’ became indicative of the madcap nocturnal fun and frolics of the Jazz Age and the 1920s.
Apart from the obvious things like balloons, streamers and party hats, special gifts increasingly became a necessary part of any special affair. For example, in New York, at Delmonico’s restaurant in February 1909, a private party used the theme of American beauty roses for décor and all the ladies received a bouquet of flowers; at the first Cinderella dance at Sherry’s restaurant in late 1911 favours were cigarette cases for the men and boudoir caps for the women; in late 1913 at a charity event at the Astor hotel, all the ladies received a little antimony jewel box and at the Sans Souci nightclub, where Irene and Vernon Castle were the attraction in early 1914, all the women received white gardenias as favours.
Special favours became popular in Europe immediately after the First World War. The fad appears to have gained impetus when Leon Volterra opened Le Perroquet in Paris in the spring of 1921. This restaurant, nightclub, dance hall and cabaret de luxe was situated above the foyer of the Casino de Paris at 16 Rue Clichy and became the most fashionable and elegant night-spot in Paris. One of Volterra’s marketing ploys was to give each lady a beautifully dressed poupee doll as a souvenir on the weekly gala nights. These became highly sought after and much talked about and followed the craze for boudoir dolls which was increasing in popularity.
As the 1920s progressed, special gala nights and themed fetes were being staged constantly and as a result they provided great inspiration for unique and novel gifts. A keen rivalry also developed between proprietors over these gifts and in many cases quite expensive presents were presented such as dainty silk cushions, cigarette cases, silver vases, bath crystals, feathery fans and porcelain bells.
When the Piccadilly Hotel began to stage themed balls during the summer of 1922, it was announced that ‘Fete de Fleurs’ on Friday 5th May would be ‘the first of a novel and brilliant series of fascinating festivities introducing the very latest Parisian novelties quite new to London.’ The famous ballroom would be transformed for each themed event, so for the ‘Fete Espagnole’ (Friday 12th May) there was dancing in the enchanted atmosphere of old Madrid with Spanish decorations and novelties ‘everything to capture the spirit of old world city of music and colourful romance.’ For the ‘Fete des Oiseau’ (Friday 19th May) everyone was given a bird hat from Paris and for the Venetian Fete (11th July) coveted Venetian shawls were given away to the ladies.
The ‘favour fad’ was described succinctly: ‘The value or the novelty of the presents distributed among guests appear to be the principal attractions which induce dancers of the fair sex to visit certain dance rendezvous ‘I simply must go to so-and-so hotel tonight: they’re giving away the duckiest little vanity bags I hear’ But apart from the paper hats, coloured balloons, tinsel novelties and absurd baubles which are common gifts at dances, presents of real use and intrinsic worth are nowadays lavished as souvenirs of happy dancing hours. This apparent something for nothing offer has an extraordinary lure for the feminine visitor even if they cannot understand the price of the tickets (which presumably they do not pay for). It shows a keen understanding of the feminine psychology on the part of the dance promoters who show such ostensible generosity.’
Derby night in early June became one of the many popular themed events and a focus of fun and festivities. At the Hotel Metropole cabaret in 1923 The Follies Derby was an attractive innovation where you could enjoy the excitement of Newmarket in miniature. The girls in the guise of bookies gave out coloured discs representing racing colours. When the odds were called, four steeds made of papier-mâché and mounted on tiny wheels concealed in their hoofs appeared and they were raced by the girls, albeit slowly with the winner snapping the tape. Thereafter, all London cabarets had big annual Derby nights with favours and gifts for all. At Dolly’s Revels in 1924, the souvenirs were appropriately horses and jockeys heads on the end of long wands but enough and to spare to go round and at the Summer-time Frolics as the Café de Paris all the ladies had souvenirs of powder boxes containing a dainty little dancing figure.
During 1924 the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs at the Hotel Metropole introduced its novel Sunday evening dinner dances with a special theme and setting – a concept that had been tried and tested earlier in the year at Monte Carlo. ‘Un Soir a Nagasaki’ (May 1924) was held in a bower of Japanese lanterns with table decorations of real almond, plum and peach blossom and souvenirs of dainty almond trees, flower hair ornaments and quaint Japanese figures. ‘En Chine’ (October 1924) featured masses of Chinese favours that were showered on the guests including caps, hats, fans, dolls, mandarins, pipes, lanterns, whistles and even lacquered powder boxes.
At the Café de Paris in late 1924, the ‘favours’ showered on the visitors were most original – surmounting slender sticks are posies of coloured flowers, black cats with arched backs and glowing eyes and grotesque faces all of which were be lit up by a tiny electric bulb. At midnight the lights were lowered and the effect of the dancers moving around the room with these illuminated favours was most charming.
At the same time there was anther innovation. When Parysis, the famous Parisian artist made her first appearance at the Hotel Metropole cabaret, lifelike statuettes of her modelled in wax were given away as a memento.
‘I know several dancing enthusiasts who are making collections of these jolly mementoes of gay evenings at London clubs and restaurants. The trade in them must be immense and much ingenuity is shown by someone in devising new ideas.’
When Roger Wolfe Kahn’s fashionable new cabaret called Le Perroquet de Paris, opened in New York in November 1926 with a mirrored dance floor and aquariums beneath the individual tables, he made a point of following the Parisian example of giving expensive souvenirs to the women – in this instance a bottle of premier perfume. Back in Paris the legendary American dancer Harry Pilcer took over the dansants at Claridge’s in early 1927 and once again returned to the favoured dolls gift for the ladies that had become such a feature of Le Perroquet five years earlier.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Chicago Tribune, Variety, Encore, The Referee, Dancing Times, Daily Telegraph, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, New York Times
Delmonico’s: A Century of Splendour by Lately Thomas
Irene Castle Scrapbook, NY Public Library
Piccadilly Hotel Scrapbook