June 8, 2012 / 4:08 PM / in 6 years

Folies Bergere plumage hits auction block in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - Feathers galore go on the auction block in Paris this weekend, as the extravagant headdresses, boas, and sparkling scanty costumes of the Folies Bergere music hall find a new home with the highest bidder.

The symbol of “joie de vivre” at the turn of the century, the Folies Bergere was a palace of frivolity and popular entertainment, replete with nearly-nude showgirls adorned with over-the-top frills and flounces.

Now, some 6,000 costumes, posters, programs and paraphernalia from the collection of former director Helene Martini - dubbed “The Empress of the Night” - will be sold on June 9 and 10 by auctioneers Bailly-Pommery & Voutier.

Plumage, sequins, glitter, and all manner of frou-frou feature in the auction, from a five-tiered floral crinoline worthy of the most enthusiastic can-can to avant-garde headdresses that would not look out of place in Las Vegas.

Estelle Daniere, the Folies’ last chorus line leader, said she was moved to see all the old costumes on display at Paris’ old stock exchange.

“If they could talk, what would they say? They’d have plenty of anecdotes,” Daniere, wearing a sparkling silver number with a high slit, told reporters at a viewing on Friday.

“I hope they find someone who will give them a second life,” she said. “They deserve it - to find the limelight again and do another show.”

During its glory days, the Folies Bergere inspired painters such as Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec, who depicted the barmaids and dancers as well as their ogling admirers.

It also provided a rapt audience for the top talents of the music-hall stage, from Montmartre cabaret star Jane Avril to the jazz-era darling Josephine Baker, who became a legend after her first appearance in little more than a skirt made of bananas.

The main Folies revue, long a tourist fixture that faded with age, was shelved a decade ago, but the venue is still used for concerts and other shows.

Russian-born French artist Erte, a Folies Bergere collaborator, features prominently in the auction, with about 200 of his lithographs and silk screens depicting elegant women in Art Deco regalia for sale.

Dozens of original costume sketches by Michel Gyarmathy, longtime artistic director of the Folies, are on sale, as are small-scale models of sets, now a bit dusty.

Fans of Belle Epoque poster art can find colorful posters advertising the music hall signed by famed artist Jules Cheret, estimated at about 400 euros ($500).

Collectors and the curious who came to Friday’s viewing were awed by the racks and racks of costumes, whether cheetah outfits, French Revolution-era get-ups or petticoats by the dozen.

A group of women pulled up the skirt of a modest-looking black dress to reveal a cascade of bright yellow ruffles. Another woman eyed a red feather that fell on the floor and snatched it up as a souvenir.

Most of the costumes in the auction appear to hail from the 1970s and 80s, and some are pure kitsch. One five-piece ensemble is all satin panther print, accessorized by a swirling panther cape with fuchsia lining and a black feathered headdress.

Another, the “Pineapple Dress,” features a sequined and feathered pineapple at the derriere, estimated between 120-150 euros ($150-$190).

Reporting By Alexandria Sage; editing by Patricia

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