Cancan dancers, sexy girls and absinthe once gave Paris a racy reputation but nightlife in the French capital had tamed, until, that is, striptease returned to offer an alternative to cabarets and peep shows.
This month, self-professed British playboy Peter Stringfellow became the latest night-club owner to open a pole and table dancing club just minutes from the Champs Elysee, a move he says will revive Paris's hedonistic image.
"In the eyes of the world, Paris is a very beautiful city, a romantic, sexy city, but when you come here now it is still romantic and still very beautiful, but it has lost some of its chichi with women," Stringfellow said.
"I think I can give Paris back its sexuality."
Stringfellow's formula is simple -- attractive 19- to 26-year-old girls are paid by clients to strip as they dance slowly and sensually around a pole on a back-lit podium or just to sit and talk. No touching, no telephone numbers and certainly no sex.
After initial resistance, Stringfellow's London club has become part of the British capital's mainstream nightlife scene and favored by celebrities. It is even a corporate party venue, proof that it is not a seedy strip joint, Stringfellow said.
"It's a nice atmosphere for a man and he can go home at the end and feel good. He can actually say tell his wife where he has been," said the permanently tanned 61-year-old, lounging on the bed in his room in Paris's Ritz hotel.
Neither caberet nor peep show
Stringfellow's club is the second to open in Paris. Husband and wife team Cathy and David Guetta opened Pink Platinum three months ago and say Parisiens and tourists alike have welcomed the return of striptease after some 30 years of absence.
"People like to spend an evening this way. It has an attraction for them. They come after other clubs close, after the cinema or the restaurant, in couples or singly. It's been a big success," a spokeswoman said.
Stringfellow, a steelworker's son and self-made millionaire, believes more such clubs will open in Paris to fill a gap between famous adult cabaret venues like the Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse and the peep shows of prostitution districts.
"In Paris, you have the Moulin Rouge and others, which are fantastic family entertainment and then nothing and now my idea of beautiful women in the company of men as a form of acceptable entertainment is a good thing," he said.
At the Moulin Rouge, a dance hall famed for high-stepping cancan stars and the patronage of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the 19th century, there is little concern that the return of striptease to Paris will rob its glitzy chorus line show of an audience.
"It is not comparable, not the same type of show, and won't attract the same kind of clientele. Our show is not striptease," said Fanny Rabasse, Moulin Rouge spokeswoman.
Tailored to Paris
While Stringfellow's London club is a success -- the man who famously gave the Beatles one of the band's first bookings, declined to discuss "vulgar" money issues -- he said his Paris club had to be tailored to French sophistication."
"Food and fashion are all part of being French ... so with that in mind I didn't want to import an American or English club but rather one using French designs and French ideas," he said.
In practice, this translates into a deep red and maroon velvet decor, with feathers displayed below glass table tops, furry cushions, walls covered in cases of Stringfellow's trademark butterflies and a ceiling covered in fairy lights.