Before it became an icon of Parisian nightlife, it was Marcel Proust’s favourite bath house a century earlier. In 1978, it became Paris’ answer to Studio 54, overflowing with famous faces; a cultural institution fuelled by sex, drugs, disco … and midnight swimming.
The bath house was first built in 1885 and run by the Guerbois family as one of the most famous thermal baths of the capital. Workers from the nearby market, Les Halles, would come early in the morning, after working all night to shower and drink coffee and calvados. For those who could afford it, the bathhouse was also a mecca of massage, offering sulphur and steam baths, both Turkish and Russian.
It was a very young Philippe Starck who was commissioned to transform the interior of the bathhouse into a nightclub, his second ever job as a budding designer. Spread over several floors, the venue had a bar and restaurant, but Starck kept the bathhouse tiling and even the baths as part of the décor, something that seems to still influence the designer today as he builds hotels and restaurants all around the world.
“Magnifique, Magique, Mythique”
writes one former patron describing Les Bains Douches, reminiscing over the photo gallery of the former nightclub’s resident photographer, Foc Kan. We’re looking at his raw photographs of the years he spent snapping the debaucherous goings on at the legendary night spot; years which he regards as the most exciting time of his life.
The ‘Belle Époque’ of clubbing, if you will, he claims was around 1985,
“when we didn’t know all about AIDs. Everyone was having sex with everyone, anytime, anywhere, we were free.”
Kan’s job was made easy by the endless list of celebrities that frequented Les Bains Douches– and we’re not talking stars of reality television, which the photographer believes is behind the demise of nightclub glamour. We’re talking real legends like Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Yves Saint-Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, all the 80s supermodels, Jack Nicholson, De Niro, Bowie, Prince, Johnny Depp when he was still dating Kate Moss and an underage Vanessa Paradis who would later become the mother of his children.
Kan’s photographs at Les Bains Douches are a who’s who of iconic faces lighting cigarettes, getting drunk, overly friendly, dizzy on the dance floor and probably a little wet too … The nightclub was finally closed in June of 2010 due to a “serious and imminent danger” to the public, in particular due to the removal of certain pillars that were kinda sorta important for holding up the building.
The party was over…
In 2013, the venue briefly became an artist’s residence, featuring the mosaics of ‘Space Invader’ and other street art which decorated the same walls that Naomi Campbell and Mick Jagger had leaned against, flirting with their glasses of champagne.
Promising to be ready in Winter 2014, Les Bains, which used to be comparable to Studio 54, is now planning to become the Parisian equivalent to LA’s iconic celebrity haunt, Chateau Marmont.