Own a piece of costume history in Paris

A former owner of the historic Parisian theatre Les Folies Bergère is auctioning off a vast treasure trove of costumes, sets, and accessories dating from 1970-2000.

Les Folies Bergère, Paris, May 1946, LIFE magazine/photo by Ralph Morse; Les Folies Bergère today

Open since May 1869, Paris’ Folies Bergère, referred to in its inception as one of many  ‘maisons de plaisance‘ (houses of pleasure), is world-renowned for its musical theatre revues and cabaret acts, famously launching the careers of many successful performers, Josephine Baker among them.  While many similar 19th century theaters that preceded the Folies Bergère took their name from the quartier in which they were situated, i.e. Folies Nouvelles, Folies Saint-Antoine, et cetera, the Folies Bergère took its name from a street nearby, Rue Bergère, rather than its actual street or environs- as it was the only street which did not refer to a specific family.  Thus, the Folies Bergère referred to ‘les folles’ – the crazies – of the rue Bergère, and over a century of fantastic parties, fêtes, and performances began thenceforth.  Intellectuals, artists, and plain old revelers flocked to this bastion of Parisian nightlife to be entertained by the extravagant costumes and elaborate song-and-dance routines.  Fast forward to today: owner of the historic theatre from 1970 to 2000, Helene Martini, is selling off a vast treasure trove of Bergère costumes, sets, and accessories from this time period, priced to sell with reserves starting as low as €12 for accessories and €100 for simpler dresses.  ‘It was time to let go,’ she told the French press.  An initial sale took place over the weekend, bringing in €179,188.00 total for around 500 lots proposed on saturday afternoon.  A final sale, geared towards trade and industry buyers, will take place tomorrow.

Below, historic imagery accompanied by costumes for sale.

Turn-of-the-century Folies Bergère advertising

Josephine Baker in her many wonderful guises, Folies Bergère, circa late 1920s; 4th image: Josephine in 1975

Performances at Les Folies Bergère, clockwise from upper left: May 1946, LIFE magazine/photo Ralph Morse; circa 1920s, LIFE magazine; circa 1970s; ‘Le Meneuse de Revue’ painting by Eugene Leliepvre, circa 1940s

Various costumes and accessories up for auction, circa 1970-2000

Various costumes and accessories up for auction, circa 1970-2000

Scene background design by Erté up for auction

Ball gowns up for auction, circa 1970-2000

Own a piece of costume history in Paris

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