Come to the Cabaret old chums... and buy dresses
An exotic auction of colourful costumes by the owner of the Folies Bergère cabaret beat expectations this weekend.
Nicknamed The Empress of the Night, Hélène Martini managed Paris’s biggest music hall from 1974 until 2000
Over three decades, the former showgirl salvaged some 6,000 stage costumes, from frilly cancan dresses to plumed head bands, keeping them in an outbuilding of her 19th-century Paris chateau and in a storeroom in the Pigalle red-light district, where she lives most of the time.
Built in 1869 and renamed Folies Bergère in 1872, the music hall offered a mix of fare, ranging from operettas to scantily-clad showgirl revues ... and also performances by top artists such as Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf and Ella Fitzgerald.
But the Folies is perhaps best known for having launched the career of the African-American Josephine Baker, who became an overnight sensation when she performed in 1926 wearing a skirt of artificial bananas and little else.
In all, a treasure trove of about 1,000 items was put on sale, raking in a total of €413,212.
Lots had been given deliberately low estimates for the two-day sale held by Bailly-Pommery & Voutier in the former stock exchange building in central Paris, so that anyone could take home a Folies Bergère souvenir.
But in the end barely 20 lots went for less than €100, with many hopeful buyers leaving empty-handed.
A pheasant-feather head dress with tiara slated for €200-300 went for €1,887, while a leopard-skin ensemble with bustier, suspender belt and a cockerel feather tiara with an estimate of €130 went for €1,063.
A stage curtain, decorated with red sequins sold for €23,125 to rival cabaret Moulin Rouge, which plans to conserve the item as part of French music hall heritage.
The current manager of Folies Bergère, Jean-Marc Dumontet, also bought pieces linked to the history of the celebrated music hall, such as models, drawings and documents.
Head dresses were among the most popular items, with several French and foreign cabarets snapping them up.
Some 75 lots which remain unsold will be presented at a second, larger sale taking place tomorrow in the east of Paris.