New Club: La Belle Epoque
You can find my wee trend article on brand spanking new (but, like, totally vintage) club night, La Belle Epoque. Trust me: you'll have a Wilde old time, especially after 10 absinthes or so, in Time Out's spangly (yes, it well is spangly) Clubbing section tomorrow.
Read all about it first, in full, HAR and you too can party like it's 1899.
London’s love of vintage dress-up nights is legendary, a scene so popular that you can dance across the decades, from ’20s speakeasies to ’60s happenings via ’40s swing nights, in a weekend.
But every now and again, a period night comes along to challenge your wardrobe and offer a glimpse of a particular seedy and sexy time.
Parties such as roaring ’20s night, Prohibition, and wartime shelter soirée, The Blitz Party, explore specific eras on a grand scale. But now the events company behind both these nights, Bourne & Hollingsworth, is rewinding even further at their new night: La Belle Epoque.
It focuses on early 1900s Paris, a time as yet overlooked (in a big way, at least) by the city’s nightlife creatives. The party at Shoreditch Studios on Saturday, masterminded by Anne Kapranos, Essence Communication’s lifestyle director, brings to life an outrageously bohemian nightlife scene, steeped in absinthe, the ‘beautiful era’s seductive green liquor of choice. Kapranos thinks that it’s the next big trend in period clubbing. ‘People want more of a challenge,’ she says. ‘They want do to something sexier.’
They floated the idea at dinky Fitzrovia bar B&H last December, and now they’re back with a customised warehouse space filled with airborne circus performers, absinthe tastings and demonstrations, different levels to sit and sip on, sideshows, can-can dancers and sozzled poets. ‘The whole venue is going to have a green glow too,’ she continues, ‘like you’re inside an absinthe bottle.’ A multi-sensory clubbing experience, indeed – if you stay sober enough.
It’s a fascinating era to explore – and the most interesting dress-up idea this year so far (or maybe that’s just the absinthe talking…). So if you’re unfamiliar with the fabulous Belle Epoque, but fancy unleashing your inner green fairy, here’s a brief guide on how to go clubbing, 1900 Paris style.
La Belle Epoque Literally translated as ‘The Beautiful Era’, La Belle Epoque was a period of wealth for the upper classes in Western European history from around 1870 to the start of World War One in 1915. Its beating heart was in Paris. Simultaneously, the avant-garde was blossoming with impressionism, new modernist literature and theatre, and the increasingly popular cabarets, where the bourgeoisie and the lower classes would mix.
French licensing laws were relaxed, which led to a vibrant café culture in the Parisian district of Montmartre. The area became a hotbed for the world’s artists and for after-dark pursuits. For cabaret and depraved glamour, party people would look no further than Paris’s most extravagant music hall, the Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1889. There was an overriding emphasis on boozing and bawdy fun, as Parisians were tempted out of their cramped apartments and into the many sociable cafés like Le Chat Noir and Brasserie des Martyrs, once frequented by the likes of Charles Baudelaire, which transformed from literary salon by day to lesbian den by night.
The music One can’t help but wonder how much attention was paid to background music after 20 or so verres of the green stuff, but at La Belle Epoque, the focus is on authenticity with a modern take. ‘There’s only so much French music hall you can listen to,’ says Kapranos. ‘We’re mixing Edith Piaf-esque stuff with can-can numbers, modern French music and a bit of modern British music too.’
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the Belle Epoque was absinthe, the drink favoured by the era’s creative geniuses, such as Oscar Wilde, Toulouse-Lautrec and, famously, Van Gogh, who sliced off part of his ear during an absinthe-fuelled psychotic episode.
In a 2006 New Yorker article, Jack Turner referred to this cloudy green drink as the ‘elixir of bohemia’. A cheap tonic of anise, fennel and, crucially, wormwood, it was incredibly popular as the cost of wine and cognac soared. It was eventually prohibited in France following a tirade of anti-absinthe propaganda that claimed it caused lunacy and degeneracy. Some say it was to smarten up the French army, preparing them for World War One.
Although it has never been banned in the UK, today it’s better known as the shot of choice for pissed students who want to experience its mythical hallucinogenic effects. Marilyn Manson fans aside (he favours blood-red Serpis absinthe, you know), its decadent romanticism has been quite lost.
‘Anyone that’s been doing absinthe shots lately has probably had it mixed with Red Bull in a student pub,’ says Kapranos. ‘It’s not the right way to drink it; it’s supposed to be quite a slow drink.’
She’s referring to the elaborate ceremony used to prepare the drink. Belle Epoque barmen would pour ice-cold water over a sugar cube balanced on a special slotted spoon into the tonic, causing it to turn a cloudy pale green.
At La Belle Epoque you’ll find many practitioners of this ritual – and they’ll even be using authentic wormwood-infused stuff from Pernot-Ricard, a revival of the original nineteenth-century commercial absintheurs Pernod Fils (whose 136-proof stuff was used by the French army in Algeria to disinfect drinking water – you can see why they wanted to ban it!).
The fashions Think debauched Victorian groupies in a Marilyn Manson video. Raid the high street for the ‘underwear as outerwear’ trend. Watch Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Moulin Rouge’ for inspiration, but strip it of all the glitz and add a dark twist.
Says Kapranos: ‘It’s not as easy as a flapper dress and some pearls. This period probably hasn’t been covered before because a lot of people wouldn't know what to wear.’
For girls, she says, the basic look is corsets, ruffly skirts or petticoats (which you can find in Beyond Retro), stockings, big ‘haven’t-brushed-it-for-five-months’ hair, fishnet stockings and feather boas.
Guys can go for either the rich gent look in a top hat and tails, or starving (but drunk) artists – which we think is far more fun. Use Ewan MacGregor’s ‘Moulin Rouge’ character as a base, she says. Look tortured and you’ll blend in just fine.
‘People can just make stuff up,’ urges Kapranos. ‘When I went to the first one I just wore some underwear that I’d bought for a frisky Valentine’s day and a shawl.’
La Belle Epoque is at Shoreditch Studios on Sat May 15. See Time Out's Clubbing listings.
For more information on the Belle Epoque, visit (weirdly enough) www.greendevil.com.