Many of the musical performances and theatrical productions in Las Vegas are filled with elaborate costumes. Audiences expect that bling and sparkle. It’s been that way for decades.
One of the most elaborate shows in Las Vegas was the Folies Bergere, staged at the Tropicana Hotel from 1959 to 2009.
A large collection of costumes have been backstage at the Tropicana since then. But now the hotel has given the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas a treasure trove of its Folies Bergere costumes.
In a little more than a year, the museum will put on a full-fledged exhibition of these costumes.
Until then, museum has decided to whet our appetite with one amazing costume from the 1990s show, “The Best of Folies Bergere: Sexier Than Ever.” The costume will be on display beginning in a couple of weeks at the museum.
Karan Feder is the Nevada State Museum’s Guest Curator of Costume and Textiles. She’s is in charge of incorporating the Folies Bergere costumes into the museum’s permanent collection.
“Every single show was sexy from the very beginning.” Feder told KNPR’s State of Nevada. “It was all about showing off the gorgeous qualities of the female form. And, there were always show boys in the show, but the boys always looked like men as opposed to some of our musical revue shows now where the men have on thongs or various states of undress. The men were usually quite dressed and dapper-looking in the show.”
The Paris Folies Bergere migrated to Las Vegas in the 1950s. The man who brought it here was Lou Walters, the father of journalist Barbara Walters. At the time, Lou Walters was Entertainment Director at Las Vegas’s Tropicana Hotel. Walters obtained the licensing rights to the show, the first time, says Feder, that the show was licensed outside of Paris.
“The shows were actually built and designed in Paris and shipped over here.” Says Feder. “It was a real Parisian kind of show.
Beginning in 1975, the show was produced here in America. Feder says it was then that “the show took on a real American flavor mixed in with the Parisian flavor.”
Feder says it’s an interesting art form designing these kinds of costumes for the stage. “These costumes worked quite a bit. Two times a night. Six times a week for thousands of shows.”
The costumes needed to be durable. “This was based on the elaborate foundation – the parts you can’t see inside the costume. There was an extensive wardrobe crew backstage. At any point in time there were 16 to 18 women, typically, that were repairing, maintaining, executing all the quick changes behind the scenes. As I understand it, the choreography backstage was just as integral as it was on stage.”
The job of putting together a big museum show for the Nevada State Museum for the Fall of 2016, involves a kind of investigative or detective work. Although the Tropicana gift includes about 8,000 costumes, the collection is still missing some costumes and accessories, says Feder.
“Probably some people do have some examples at home that the museum would be interested in studying or borrowing or at least just taking a photograph of. We know what we don’t have,” says Feder. “And it’s a matter, I think of, reaching out to the community and letting them know that we are collecting this kind of costume, and we would be interesting in seeing what they have.”
Feder would also like to be contacted at the Nevada State Museum by former Folies Bergere dancers and crew who live in the Las Vegas area for oral history interviews – for “living history.”
The phone number at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas is 702-486-5205; Or write to Karan Feder at: Nevada State Museum, 309 South Valley Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89107.
“The collection comes to us with no documentation, says Feder. “Literally we just loaded boxes out of the Tropicana. So, there’s no sense of organization about these pieces. I’m relying on not just existing photographs but I really need to rely on the actual in-front-of-the-scenes and behind-the-scenes cast and crew to determine what we have, how it was used, how it was worn.”
From KNPR's State of Nevada November 25, 2008:
Karan Feder, Guest Curator of Costume & Textiles at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas.