Paris has historically been one of the most promiscuous cities in the world and long thought to be the naughty capital of the world. The end of World War I brought even more changes to Paris as returning soldiers came home weary and ready for more democracy and egalitarianism, and the women’s movement began to thrive. Both men and women were ready for equality among the sexes. With the end of World War I, Parisians ripped off the restraints of the war years and were more than ready to live again. People who lived in Paris in the 1920s knew how to have fun and live naughty lifestyles.
Art and culture thrived in Paris during this time. This was a huge period of modern culture and artist creativity. Independence and eccentricity were not just tolerated they were encouraged. This new generation wanted to rebel against the pre-war life and cast off the cloak of restraint. There were enormous changes in people’s habits and a huge cry for personal freedom.
The city gave people freedom from conventional ways of living. The women’s movement helped women live their most interesting lives. Many of the women flocking to Paris in the 20s were lesbians who wanted to live openly. They hosted well-known salons where artists and writers mingled and discussed important ideas of the day.
Two of the most famous lesbians living in Paris during the 20s were Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. They hosted their own salon as did Natalie Burner who loved sexual conquests and declared openly, “I will live as I choose.”
If you were to visit Paris in the 20s you would have been able to walk down the street at night and see a thriving world of prostitution. Brothels and sex houses thrived as prostitution was legal during this time. In the brothels of Paris every imaginable sexual taste could be satisfied. People could choose from any of the city’s registered brothels. Even religious leaders looked the other way and there were brothels that catered especially to the needs and sexual desires of priests.
Or perhaps the cities many parks would have been of interest to you. Each park was known for a specific type of sexual specialty. You could find parks that catered to S&M, male homosexual encounters and more.
In cafes and cabarets, topless dancers were the norm and even expected. Perhaps the most famous club was the Moulin Rouge. The city that was free and open was a haven for artists, and writers like Hemingway who were able to live life the way they wanted in Paris. Soldiers flocked to Paris as well, drawn by the city’s erotic charms they first discovered during the war and kept them coming back after the war.
One of the most notable figures of the time was Man Ray, who was originally from Brooklyn. He was a modernist artist who considered himself a painter, although his photography became very famous as well. Many of the most significant members of the art community found themselves on the end of Man Ray’s camera lens. He took photographs of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein among many others. Anyone who was anyone wanted their photograph taken by Man Ray.
An open bisexual, Man Ray had relationships with both men and women, and loved the freedom Paris had to offer. He took some of the most erotic images of the time, many of which reflected the naughty postcards which were a famous part of Paris lore in the 1920s. One of Man Ray’s most famous subjects was Alice Prin. They met in Paris, fell madly in love and had a relationship that lasted until Man Ray left Paris in the late 20s.
Alice Prin, who went by the name Kiki de Montparnasse, was one of the most fascinating women living in Paris at the time. An artist’s model, exhibitionist, nightclub singer and painter, Kiki took Paris by storm and flourished in a liberated culture she helped define. Two of the best things she was known for was not wearing underwear and exposing her breasts for money. Her cabaret act was known for her performances in black hose and garters, and she played at some of the most famous music halls around town.
Kiki modeled for many artists, many of whom she had affairs with. She was known to move in with the artists and become their mistress. Man Ray made hundreds of portraits of her, including the very famous Le Violon d’Ingres and Noire et Blanche and they had a very hot love affair. Kiki was an artist in her own right and hosted sold out exhibitions of her paintings. At the age of 28, Kiki was declared the “Queen of Montparnasse” and was a symbol of the bohemian life that Paris in the 20s had to offer.
Many Americans eager to escape the value laden, judgmental life in the United Stated fled to Paris to experience a new found freedom of sex and drugs. Two of the most famous were Harry and Caresse Crosby, a scandalous couple to say the least.
Determined to live life on their own terms after World War I, the Crosby’s headed for Europe two days after they were married. They both enjoyed a decadent lifestyle of smoking opium, drinking openly (as there was no prohibition in Paris) and enjoying an open marriage. As expatriates, the Crosby’s embraced the bohemian lifestyle Paris had to offer. Both engaged in affairs and lived a hedonistic life. They hosted parties for the Paris elite and boasted friendships of some of the most famous artists of the time.
When the Jazz Age came to Paris, it was a big hit with Parisians. Naughty girls were dancing the night away in jazz clubs and dance halls. Josephine Baker came on the scene and performances were never to be the same as she took Paris by storm.
Josephine performed on stage almost completely nude. Her performances were considered the most erotic of the time and often included everything but penetration. She was considered by many to be the “Creole Goddess” and had many lovers, both men and women.
Cole Porter, perhaps one of the most famous composers of the 20th century called Paris “the city of his boyhood dreams.” In Paris, Porter could be himself and loved the liberation the city offered him. Porter, a bisexual, lived a life in a cultured climate where he could still be a hedonist. It was a dream come true but like all things, they must come to an end eventually.
In 1929 with the crash of the stock market and the world entering the Great Depression many Americans in Paris lost the steam of wealth that was supporting their decadent lifestyles. When the money was cut off, many of the artists, writers and performers who were American had to leave Paris. This ended an important era in Paris history and as Europe headed into World War II the years these people spent in Paris would inspire them for the rest of their lives.