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Parisian Ladies of the Night
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

When I first began my life as a brocante dealer between London and Paris in 1977, I would deball at Marche Montreuil at 6.30 am in all weathers, even in misty fine rain. Today in 2018 I ask myself how could I have been so stupid and gauche, spreading my good quality English collectables stock on the ground, watching and waiting for punters. What a ‘hard’ life it was ‘sur les trottoirs de Paris’ but oh such fun without a care in my crazy Mickey Mouse world.

One early damp grey morning a white van, driven by a French postcard dealer called Alexandre, was backing out of his spot in the market and didn’t see my ‘rubbish’ on the wet ground covered with plastic as protection against the drizzle and thus ran over and flattened my precious collectable vintage English biscuit tins. When I shouted at him, pointing out what he had done, ruining my stock, he just laughed, shrugged his shoulders and drove off.  If they weren’t postcards, to his way of thinking, it was merde pour la poubelle!

I never forgot his insolent phallocratic behaviour and the incident, later ignoring this bombastic dealer when I saw him running around at the Ephemera and postcard fairs. I was later told by dealers in the know that he specialised in Erotica but I didn’t care as I was not interested in doing business with Alexandre Dupouy, even though years later I ventured gingerly into that themed area through Happenstance.

The decades passed and my dealing days ended, turning my stock and private collection into a themed commercial nostalgia photo library called Retrograph Archive. After all, why sell an image when you can licence reproduction rights and get to keep the original image? Have your cake and eat it too!

One of my themes was Erotica having bought several alluring sexy dressed sepia ‘ladies of the night’ postcards along with American 40s era Bette Page black and white posed bondage photographs. The Parisian ladies were erotic in the 20s with garters, some wearing negligees and others topless but never bottomless, being scantily dressed at all times. Their faces became so familiar that it was if I was having a relationship with these women! None of them looked like sluts. I made sure I had hand picked them for their attractive smiles and sensual bodies. They all looked like they were enjoying themselves sitting on beds or lounging around resting on decorative distinctly designed Art Deco oval cushions. Some wore dark school uniforms with white blouses but no panties carrying books, some showed their provocative garters with laddered stockings, while others were doing something surreal like ironing or telephoning. My favourite lacy petticoat clad lady was holding a whip across her knees, sitting demurely waiting patiently for her victim!

Back in London I was contacted by the formal be-speckled picture researcher Emily working for Wordsworth Editions who were publishing a series of out-of-print vintage erotic books. They needed a good selection of sepia ‘glimpse of stocking was something shocking’ ladies for their enticing sepia vintage looking paper book covers. So Emily and I would scrutinise my ladies but not showing pubes or nipples at any cost! Emily was so matter of fact with her professional research, that we could have been looking at household product consumer advertising. No raised eyebrows for this spinster who was efficient at her job of course. No amusement or humour the day she came round to source not sauce!

As I was going to Paris to hunt for more images for Retrograph, my vintage nostalgia archive, it was suggested I browse at ‘Les larmes d’Eros’ at 58 Rue Amelot in the 11em to find my ladies. How was I to know that the shop/gallery was owned by my arch enemy Alexandre?  However, the gallery was thankfully managed by his hard po-faced black haired fringed very Parisian scarlet bow shaped lipped Louise Brooks lookalike wife? She and I had been introduced at the paper fair when she invited me to come to their gallery enticing me with the promise of hundreds of sepia ladies visuals in all shapes and sizes.

I arrived with the sole intention of finding my ladies. Nothing more, nothing less. She escorted me to a large central table that occupied most of the ground floor area but oddly she stood pouting behind a circular small reception desk watching and waiting. For what? For who? I was soon to find out. An erotic clock hung on the wall with female black stocking legs with a red garter moving with every minute in different positions. The stark white walls were adorned with black and white modern art erotica framed in black so the effect was quite striking. Black and white. White and black with a hint of provocative scarlet here and there.

I excitedly sat with 4 shoeboxes of vintage postcards. I had all afternoon. I had reserved the time.  As I flicked through the sepia images, head down concentrating, the door bell rang and a man entered, moving around behind me silently as there was not much room to swing a cat. I did not look up but kept on focusing on my delectable ladies. Then the door bell sounded again and then again. Men were walking around me looking at the walls silently but purposefully before disappearing into the basement area where the rare explicit sado masochist photographs were on display for a limited time.

Out of curiosity I had to venture down the stairs. Ooh la la. What an education! Photos of lesbians fondling each other, penetration, Japanese bondage, threesomes, blowjobs, handjobs, S & M, whips and leather bondage, all very kinky and so French from Alexandre’s  famous private collection, some rare ones coming from the French  actor, Michel Simon’s famous erotic collection. Alexandre had published several photographic books, having found his niche and the demand was rife without any competition. Prints, books, limited edition reproductions of his explicit photographs and who knows what other services were on sale in his gallery.

I felt very aware I was out of my comfort zone but on a focussed mission. Not, however thinking of missionary positions but thinking of book jackets and a proposed poster book of 30 Parisian ladies each one of whom I would have to name. I looked into their silent faces thinking of frivolous names like Mimi, Fifi, Lulu, MuMu as if calling to them travelling through time to the world beyond.

That was during the late 80s. Today 20 years on the shop cum gallery is still open but I am no longer looking for these smiling enticing ladies frozen in time, nor venturing into the underbelly of the shop to be ‘educated’.

Written in the atelier on Rue Richer, Paris on 8.9.18.

Link with ‘Sex for one’ and ‘Mad collectors #7’