Monday market the opening of the latest show at the Crazy Horse in Paris. The show runs through May 31. In anticipation of the show, I have been seeing reviews and promotions featuring the following image:
To which my response has generally been “WTF?”. So here’s the story for those who don’t know it. The Crazy Horse opened in Paris in 1951. The brainchild of Alain Bernardin, avant-garde artist and admirer of women, the Crazy Horse presented a burlesque show with interludes of music or comedy with the aim, as stated on its webpage, of “mak[ing] artistic creation and women the focus of [the] club.” Over the years, as various artistic movements came and went, Bernardin remade the show to keep step with the times. Each number was meant not just as a performance, but was conceived as a tableau … almost as if offering a still work of art. In 2005 the Bernardin family sold the Crazy Horse to a new team who saw their aim as “sublimating women through unusual and surprising creations”. Dita von Teese and Pamela Anderson are among the women who have been featured in Crazy Horse shows. But respectful of the history of the club, the current management has also brought in a number of artists and artisans to participate in structuring the show. Hence, the current show, conceived by the club’s first “guest creator” — Christian Louboutin’s “FEU”.
Not surprisingly, Louboutin’s shoes are one of the major stars of the show. Frequently, the women on stage are wearing little else. What costumes there are were designed by fashion designer Mark Fast. So now we get to the good part. Louboutin calls the show ”an iconic Paris monument, a monument to dance, a fantastic, modern idea of the celebration of Women for Women“. It is hard, in the face of this, not to sound like a feminist crank. At the end of the day, much of the fashion industry is centered on the objectification of women and of the female form. Objectified as precious objects of beauty, but objectified none the less. They are really little more than vehicles for the artist to convey his brilliant vision. Generally, I’m really okay with that. Fashion is exciting and beautiful, and in many contexts we all objectify one another without particularly being aware of it. Fashion is still fun, exciting, interesting, and I’m happy to go along for the ride. But this show seems to me to completely lay bare (no pun intended) that objectification.
I don’t really know what to say about Fast’s costumes, but Louboutin’s shoes appear to be key to the show. The women’s nudity, when not distracting the viewer by virtue of the, well, nudity, focuses a certain attention on the shoes in their various curious permutations. Louboutin is a master of the sexy shoe, and indeed the shoes are interesting and fabulous. But I can’t help finding the show overall phenomenally off-putting. More than that, however, I am trying to figure out how in hell it is a “celebration of Women for Women”. It makes me think of a bit I read about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue which suggested that women were in fact its target audience (they use it to shop for bathing suits and take solace in seeing women’s bodies which have curves unlike the models in the fashion magazines). No need to pick apart that ridiculous assertion. But the notion that normal women, full of flaws of which they are all too conscious, find solace in looking at the bodies of women with idealized figures, both sexual and thin (as opposed to models whose figures are not seen as ideal in and of themselves but only as good hangers for the clothes), has really got to be the funniest thing I have heard in a long time. Call a spade a spade. FEU is a burlesque show. Bringing revered artists into the mix doesn’t elevate it to something else of a more admirable social significance. It strips away the clothes from the fashion industry and reveals that what is underneath is a fetishization of the female body as an object on which to draw one’s desire .