This unusual table was probably designed by Gérard Mille as a special order for Jansen -- as Jansen also produced an identical model by Mille in black lacquer. And it is one of Maison Jansen's most dazzlingly original pieces. It combines the elegant lines of the Louis XVI period with the brilliant colors and slick surfaces of the burgeoning disco age. The colors of the table mirror those of a peacock -- and just as surely as the peacock eggs and stuffed peacocks of the actual banquets -- reference the peacock throne of the Iranian dynasty.
On October 12, 1971, some of the world's most famous leaders and dignitaries journeyed to Iran to join Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in celebrating the 2,500th Anniversary of the Persian Empire at Persepolis, an ancient city four hundred miles southeast of Tehran and the site where the imperial reign began. Built by King Darius in the 6th century B.C., the ruins of Persepolis would serve as a scenic backdrop to the star-patterned arrangement of circular guest tents, configured along five main avenues to symbolize the five continents participating in the festivities. The 160 acre site also contained a Tent of Honor, 34 feet in diameter, and a Grand Banqueting Tent, 223 feet long and 79 feet wide, all banked by acres of temporary gardens and long rows of pine trees. This architectural masterpiece was the result of over a decade of planning by Maison Jansen.
With décor ranging from Louis XVI to contemporary, Pierre Delbée and his Jansen team outfitted each prefabricated forty-two-foot wide and twenty-foot high guest tent with air-conditioning, a sitting room, two bedrooms with single beds, two bathrooms, and a service room for a maid or other personal staff. The structures were covered in sand-colored sailcloth and trimmed with Jansen's characteristic Baroque-style tabs or tongues of light blue. The Shah would also ask to have his guests supplied with Porthault towels and popular French colognes and perfumes, as well as a new makeup by Elizabeth Arden called Farah, in honor of the Shah's empress, while his own tent would be furnished with spectacular marble bathtubs and richly gilded fixtures. "Included in the decoration of each tent was a presentation portrait of the tent's primary occupant made by Iranian carpet weavers" (J. Abbott, Jansen, New York, 2007, p. 258).
This unusual table was probably designed by Gérard Mille as a special order for Jansen -- as Jansen also produced an identical model by Mille in black lacquer. And it is one of Maison Jansen's most dazzlingly original pieces. It combines the elegant lines of the Louis XVI period with the brilliant colors and slick surfaces of the burgeoning disco age. The colors of the table mirror those of a peacock -- and just as surely as the peacock eggs and stuffed peacocks of the actual banquets -- reference the peacock throne of the dynasty.
These guests represented over 60 nations, including Belgium, Jordan, Norway, Nepal, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Afghanistan, Japan, and Spain. Included among them were Vice President and Mrs. Spiro T. Agnew; Prince Rainier II and Princess Grace of Monaco; England's Prince Philip and his daughter, Princess Anne; and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, escorted by his diamond-collared Chihuahua (Ibid, p. 254).
Guests would gather nightly for elegant meals in the Grand Banqueting Tent along a 187-foot-long serpentine banqueting table, "lavishly decorated with scroll-patterned gold embroidery" (Ibid, p. 261). The ceiling was draped in pink silk and folded as if to represent a "templelike coffered pattern" into which gilt- and patinated-bronze triple-tier chandeliers with acanthus leaf branches were tucked. Multi-course meals were prepared by Maxim's, the famous Paris restaurant, which actually closed its Rue Royale dining room for 15 full days to travel to Persepolis and prepare for the festivities. Waiters served the decadent courses on 92 serving platters, each of which was anchored by a taxidermy peacock. Virtually the only thing Iranian on the entire campground was the caviar that was served during the main four-and-a-half hour meal (N. Macfarquhar, "Persepolis Journal," The New York Times, 7 September 2001). These lavish feasts were washed down by a grand total of 2,500 bottles of French wine, sipped from crystal glasses designed by Baccarat (K. Meyer, The Dusk of Empire, New York, 2004, p. 77).
Not only would Jansen oversee the design and construction of this massive and opulent tent-city, but they would also help facilitate the improvement of local infrastructure, including strengthening the nearby airport and constructing a new highway, along which 250 red Mercedes-Benz limousines would be used to chauffeur the 500 invited guests to the celebration site. The celebration was so enormous that, during the planning process, Jansen president Pierre Delbée felt compelled to negotiate the acquisition of Maison Leleu, a fifty-year-old French modern design firm, in order to assist in completing the elaborate spectacle (Abbott, p. 253). The luxurious designs exhibited "the Shah's youthful tastes, developed at La Rosey, the exclusive Swiss boarding school he had attended" (Meyer, p. 77), tastes which would bring the final cost of the fete to an estimated $200 million.
The skeleton frames of Jansen's tents still stand in Persepolis today, partly because the site would later be used to house the Iranian military. Now the Iranian tourism authority is considering rebuilding these tents, with a more local style, in order to house tourists who have made the journey to the far-off desert site. But, for the time being, Persepolis will simply be remembered as the place where, in the words of New York Times reporter and gala guest Charlotte Curtis, "The Shah of Iran established himself...as one of the world's greatest party givers. For sheer grandeur, his gala in a silk tent will be hard for any nation to surpass" (Ibid).