The runway setting for Gucci’s Spring Summer 2019 fashion show, Théâtre Le Palace is the thread connecting almost a century of Parisian culture and nightlife.
The club’s identity constantly shifts to reflect contemporary moods and style, but always attuned to the city’s primal need to see and be seen. Its various reinventions include the scandalous revues of the 1920s and 30s, and its early 1970s programmes of experimental music, art, theatre and dance. More widely-known is its role as Paris’ answer to Studio 54: not merely a space in which to socialise, but a luxurious and hedonistic escape from society’s impositions, soaked in disco music and dazzling lights. In May of 1978, Vogue Hommes sent the philosopher Roland Barthes to make sense of this joyous sensory overload. He described it as “the appearance of a new art… for this is actually a public art, achieved among the public and not in front of it, and a total art (the old Greek and Wagnerian dream), where scintillation, music, and desire unite”. This democratising, non-hierarchical ideal underpins Théâtre Le Palace throughout its varied history: a site for art not merely produced on stage and transmitted to those passively watching, but whose meaning is created by its audience, the egalitarianism of the dancefloor breaching the theatre’s proscenium arch. These ideas subsequently found expression in Théâtre Le Palace’s acid house parties, and rave’s ecstatic collapse of individual identity into the collective. Inspired by the radical upheaval of the “Second Summer of Love”, flyers for Le Palace parties offered to “give a French Touch to house”, coining the genre name under which Daft Punk and others would go on to achieve global fame. In this, they merely followed the ghosts hidden in the walls of Théâtre Le Palace: generations of dancers, actors and lovers, all swept up in an epic, decades-old and still-ongoing performance. — Ed Gillett