A Brief History of the Moulin Rouge
Posted on December 3, 2012 by Corset Story
Ask anyone to name the five most famous buildings in Paris, and somewhere up among the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre they’ll probably mention the Moulin Rouge.
Built in 1889 by entrepreneurs Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler, the Moulin Rouge (meaning ‘The Red Windmill’) has become synonymous with Paris, burlesque performance, and the ‘Belle Epoque’; the so-called ‘Beautiful Era’, a period in the late-19th and early-20th Century when the city was a hive of freedom and creativity.
Early on it became particularly famous for a brand new dance, performed on stage. Inspired by the quadrille- a traditional dance that had been around since the 1600s- the Can-Can was an energetic number involving high kicks, performed by a chorus line of girls in corsets, long skirts, petticoats and stockings. (The tune most associated with the dance isn’t actually called ‘The Can-Can’, but is in fact ‘The Infernal Gallop’ from Jacques Offenbach’s 1858 operetta ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’.)
From the outset, the Moulin Rouge was popular with people from all walks of life. Situated close to the Bohemian district of Montmartre, it attracted many artists and writers, including the diminutive painter Toulouse Lautrec, who designed his first poster for the venue in 1891. Indeed, his poster designs are now regarded among his greatest works, and the paintings for which he is most famous.
But it wasn’t just the city’s bohemians who flocked to the Moulin Rouge. On visiting in 1890, allegedly intrigued by reports of a saucy “brand new dance”, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was greeted by the dancer Louise Weber (aka ‘La Goulue’ – ‘the glutton’!) with the words, “Hey, Wales! The champagne’s on you!”
Fire and strife
Tragedy struck in 1897, with the death of the venue’s manager, Charles Zidler. The Moulin Rouge closed for the first time, and reopened only intermittently between then and 1903 when, after a major refurbishment, it opened again under new management.
From then until the outbreak of World War I, the Moulin Rouge was more famous as a venue for operettas than for its showgirls, but in 1915 was gutted and all but destroyed by a fire. When it reopened again in 1921, having been virtually rebuilt from top to bottom, it did so more in the style of the original Moulin Rouge.
Since then, the Moulin Rouge has played host to some of the biggest names in show business, both from France and elsewhere. Following the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in 1944, Edith Piaf sang there with a young Yves Montand. Decades later, in the 1980s, audiences at the Moulin Rouge’s world-famous galas were treated to concerts by US stars like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli.
The movie and the costumes
Over the years, the Moulin Rouge has featured in a number of films, including – most famously – Baz Luhrmann’s musical starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. Though it offered a flamboyant interpretation of the Moulin Rouge’s early history, many of the film’s details were accurate. For instance, the real Moulin Rouge really did have an elephant-shaped boudoir on its rooftop!
Moulin Rouge-themed outfits are amongst our most popular. There is plenty of scope for creativity- all you need to make your own is one of our more Victorian-style corsets and a classic can-can skirt, or you can take a shortcut and order a matching ensemble. Either way, Paris awaits!
"Fashions fade, style is eternal"