top of page
  • Writer's pictureAhmed

A weekend with the Folies Bergère

An amazing find at a local Brocante A delightful weekend hunting for antiques which spanned the market in the castle at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte... tramping around fields looking for treasures in between cowpats.

Our best find recently was, of course, a surprise. I initially took the pile of papers on the vendor's table to be illustrations for kids. We both have a soft spot for vintage children's book illustrations with their pre-digital graphics so we jumped on them. On closer inspection it all turned out to be much more interesting.

What we were looking at was costume designs for dancers at the Folies Bergere. Amazingly they were signed, likely by the draughtsman, and dated. The drawings are brightly colored in gouache and some even have gold sprinkle for effect. The exciting bit was the date written in neat fountain pen in the corner:

We checked when we got home and it didn't coincide with Josephine Baker's tenure but the production would have been managed by the legendary Paul Derval who ran the hall from 1924. It was Derval who commissioned the extraordinary Art Deco exterior and expanded the theatre to 1700 seats.

(source: Wikipedia* )

Derval sounds a fascinating man, not just for running the Folies successfully for decades. I especially liked this detail: "Profondément superstitieux il décida aussi que tous les titres des revues présentées aux Folies devraient comporter 13 lettres ainsi que le mot ’folie’ au singulier ou au pluriel."** Profoundly superstitious he decided that all the titles of revues presented at the Folies would compose 13 letters and also the word 'Folie' in singular or plural. Carole had also wondered why the cabaret hall was not called Folies Bergères. The answer to this was more proasic; the hall was near Rue Bergère and was named for the road rather than shepherdesses in general. The Folies have been home to entertainers from France and abroad, from Trenet to Piaf to Chevailer, even Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and more. Pierre Boulez used to occasionally play in the orchestra pit. Even Benny Hill has a connection, although slight. Yes, that Benny Hill.***

The drawings are fascinating- covered in pencil and pen marks they were working documents, not for public consumption. These would have been used to communicate between costume designers and cutters and seamstresses who would assemble the astonishing outfits.

We'll carry on with research to see what we can find about the actual production. It's common with most of our favorite French antique finds for us to decide to want to keep them for ourselves. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, we only really buy items we ourselves like. I suppose every antique-hunters home is decorated with their own stock! After some head vs heart wrestling, some are on sale at our second Etsy shop, Boite a Merveilles. The others... well, we'll see if we can frame them and then decide...


** source:

*** Source:

bottom of page