UNLV exhibit takes historical look at the feather-decked icon of the Vegas showgirl

Lido De Paris and Folies Bergere In Las Vegas” exhibit featuring materials from UNLV Special Collections at Lied Library on September 4, 2015. The exhibit will run through October 2015.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

It might never have seemed possible that bustling and historic 19th-century Paris would collide with a small gambling city in the American Southwest. But in 1959, nine decades after the still-running Folies-Bergère opened in France’s capital, Les Folies Bergere opened at Las Vegas’ Tropicana, following the arrival of Lido de Paris a year earlier at the Stardust, further cementing the French-inspired showgirl into a Vegas icon.

Like their European counterparts, these large-scale spectacles with musical numbers, grand staircases, towering headpieces and other feathered and sequined ornamentation paraded the gorgeous women onstage. The remarkable entertainment pipeline between Paris and Vegas brought in Madame Bluebell’s Bluebell Girls and shuttled dancers between the cities, thanks in part to Bluebell’s connection to producer and choreographer Donn Arden.

Lido De Paris and Folies Bergere In Las Vegas

In French Connection: ‘Lido de Paris’ and ‘Folies Bergere’ in Las Vegas, at UNLV’s Lied Library, photographs, costumes, original sketches and menus—mostly culled from the vast archive in UNLV’s Special Collections—join with costume pieces provided by the Nevada State Museum to celebrate the era.

Sketches of elegant costume and theatrical designs in The French Connection nod to the artistry and creativity that the early shows demanded.

The Stardust’s Lido de Paris production closed in 1991, followed by Les Folies Bergere after nearly five decades at the Tropicana. But the entire Folies wardrobe collection has been donated to the Nevada State Museum, secured by Karan Feder, the museum’s guest curator of costumes and textiles who was also instrumental in the arrival of the wardrobe bibles from the 1981 launch of Jubilee!

Given the number of costumes, oral histories and piles of rich artifacts that still exist at a time when high-tech athletic entertainment now dominates the Strip, we can only hope for a monumental showgirl exhibit painting a broad picture of the heyday. The French Connection, which was curated by Special Collections librarian Karla Irwin and includes pieces imported from the Paris productions as well as elements created here, is a tasty sampling of what that could be like.

The French Connection Through October 1; Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-midnight; Friday, 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-midnight, free. UNLV’s Lied Library, 702-895-2255.

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