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Walking down the streets of Paris, you would never think that you are in a country renowned for its sexual freedom. Denim on denim, oversize coats, Stan Smiths— androgyny, if anything, is the national uniform, and any parlay into stilettos or mini skirts is generally regarded as vulgaire.
In a matter of days, I manage to round up a group of four friends for a Saturday night visit to Les Chandelles. We are informed in advance that the club has a strict dress code, along with a few other obligatory rules.
Attendees must arrive and leave in couples, and women are required to wear skirts and high heels, while men must be dressed in suits. Although this all sounds mildly archaic, I channel an inner Tom Ford woman that I never knew existed, going for a black pencil skirt with a gold zipper down the back, a black silk tank, and a fitted, semi-sheer Helmut Lang blazer which I am asked to remove at the door.
The boys step it up in classic suits, although one particularly fashion-forward male friend cannot resist throwing on an intricately beaded Dries Van Noten harness which he is notably not asked to remove at the door. After getting past a security guard whose head-to-toe look of appraisal takes me back to the days of The Beatrice Inn, we are granted entry and descend to a lavish, Moroccan-inspired labyrinth of a space. At the center of it is a brightly lit bar, surrounded exclusively by couples, mostly French, in what seems like their early forties.
The women look simple, chic, showing off their lithe frames and long legs in quintessential little black dresses and the occasional racy hosiery. And yet, the further we explore the space, the more bizarre it becomes, and the dress code dissolves into something decidedly more explicit; the clothing here being limited to the odd demi-cup bra or garter belt. I make an appointment to see Florence Abelin, founder of the haut de gamme, by-appointment-only erotic lingerie boutique Mise en Cage, whose clients include some of the most committed and renowned members of this milieu.