Walking down the streets of Paris bare necessities lingerie, you would never think that you are in a country renowned for its sexual freedom. Denim on denim, oversize coats, Stan Smiths androgyny, if anything, is the national uniform, and any parlay into stilettos or mini skirts is generally regarded as vulgaire. And yet, the French culture is swarming with historical and cinematographic references that convey an exceptionally liberal sexual identity, from Marquis de Sade (from whose name is derived the term sadism), to cult classic films like Les Amants(The Lovers), to notorious politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), now internationally infamous intended for his sexual exploits. But it’s not that Paris hides its relationship to experimental sexuality: It’s less seedy underbelly, more; open secret.; This is a world open to anybody who is willing to give it a try, starting with the various libertine night clubs scattered all over the city, the most famous one being Les Chandelles, a Parisian institution known as the regular haunt of numerous celebrities, writers, and politicians. It’s a mysterious and compelling subculture, complete with its own behavioral and sartorial codes, and I’ll admit it: I’m curious.
It appears that I’m not the only one. In a matter of days, I manage to round up a group of four friends bare necessities lingerie for a Saturday night visit to Les Chandelles. We are informed in advance that the golf club has a strict dress code, along with a few other obligatory rules. Attendees must arrive and leave in couples, and women are required to wear skirts and high heels, while men must be dressed in suits. Although this all seems mildly archaic, I channel an inner Tom Ford woman that I never knew existed, going for a black pencil skirt with a gold zipper down the back, a black silk tank, and a fitted, semi-sheer Helmut Lang blazer (which I am asked to remove at the door). The males step it up in classic suits, although one particularly fashion-forward male friend cannot resist throwing on an intricately beaded Dries Van Noten harness (which he is notably notasked to remove at the door). After getting past a security guard whose head-to-toe look of appraisal takes me back to the days of The Beatrice Inn, we are granted entry and descend to a lavish, Moroccan-inspired labyrinth of a space. At the center of it is a brightly lit bar, surrounded exclusively by couples, mostly French, in what seems like their early forties.
The women look simple, stylish, showing off their lithe frames and long legs in quintessential little black dresses and the occasional racy hosiery. The look is Agent Provocateur Ccocktail, and yet it’s all very… demure, if you don; t count some very friendly looks aimed in our direction. And yet, the further we explore the space, the more bizarre it becomes, and the dress code dissolves into something decidedly more explicit; the clothing here being limited to the odd demi-cup bra or garter belt. (And which it. ) But surely there’s something betweenthe frolicking nude and the discreetly modest, which leaves me with the one essential question: What does the real sexual adventurer wear, out on the town in Paris (or behind closed doors)?
I make an appointment to see Florence Abelin, founder of the haut de gamme, by-appointment-only erotic lingerie boutique Mise en Cage, whose clients include some of the most committed and renowned members of this milieu.