[Editor’s note: MRG here. Finals are over and we’re alive (barely), but that doesn’t mean that you have to suffer through our sexy historical stylings just yet. You may have noticed that I’m the only one NOT to have given a dear friend the opportunity, NAY, privilege of writing his or her very own post. JAF bestowed the honor upon CHR, as did LHB upon KAB before her. WELL not only is it my turn, IT’S ALSO CHRISTMASTIME, BITCHES. My heart’s grown 10 sizes bigger, I’ve been visited by spirits in the night who have shown me the errors of my past, present, and future ways, and that annoying little kid told me that bell rings/angel wings shit. So my dear, sweet friend SMA, who is super hip and artsy and wears fedoras a lot but in a I’m-just-a-cool-person-who-wears-hats way, not in a trying-too-hard way, generously agreed to write about scandalous sex had by equally artsy people back in the history. Don’t ever say we don’t keep the spirit of Christmas alive here at For Shame. Don’t do it. And don’t blame SMA for the photos. Those are mine.]
If I say Bohemian I’m sure two things come to mind. There’s the Urban Outfitters faux boho style that proliferates the lower east side of Manhattan in obnoxious ‘Navajo’ patterns (will I get Siouxed for that?! get it? GET IT? I’m done) but those of us that are culturally inclined know that Bohemian is actually the term ‘Ameericans’ used to describe anything remotely unconventional and artsy in the early 20th century. See, there’s this little thing called immigration and while the US of A was all over that shit, it’s never been very good at the whole “accepting other cultures” thing without making some misconstrued stereotypes. So when the French looked at the lifestyle of Romani gypsies and thought “That’s pretty freakin’ economical. I’m going to live wherever I want. Have endless sex and dance to my hearts content in flowy colorful fabric” they didn’t realize that Americans would catch on without questioning one bit of their logic (because Americans think anything and errthing French is so damn artsy). Its pretty fucked up actually. I’m sure your waiting for me to get funny. It might happen. It might not. We’ll see where this goes.Anyways, so now that we know a little somethin somethin about the Bohemian culture, lets talk about the art scene shall we? Artists thought it was cool to change their names. Kind of like when your little and you think you look like Princess Jasmine so you request everyone refer to you as Princess Jasmine and some people (mostly the kids in the playground that want in on your Lisa Frank stickers) think your so damn cool so they call you Princess Jasmine; yeah that’s exactly what the Bohemian artists were like.
Manny meets Kiki in Montparnasse in 1921 and he falls in love. He does some hangle dangling with Salvador Dali and that bunch and then makes so much art starring Kiki. So much. What he probably didn’t know is that little Kiki is a big big star in ol’ Paris for showing her goodies. Literally. Like literally showing her goodies. All of them. As her good friend Hemingway (and most likely bed buddy) said Kiki was “about as close as people get nowadays to being a Queen but that, of course, is very different from being a lady.” Kiki, born Alice Prin, was a working class girl in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d’Or. Wikipedia kindly defines her as “an illegitimate child.” Not sure how I feel about that. Anyways, little Alice lives with Grandma Prin until she’s twelve and starts working early on in Patisseries and stuff after having dropped out of school. She lands her first real job at a book binding company. Sounds classy, right? WRONG. Little Alice is not binding the Bible but the Sex Bible. That’s right. The Kama Sutra is flying through Alice’s grubby little hands like nobodies business. By fourteen she starts to dabble in the classy work of modelling for painters and sculptors, which doesn’t fare well with Mama Prin who is trying to make a good girl of little Alice. Now Alice was always a little ball of fire. She got fired from a few jobs for reportedly using the charcoal from the baking ovens to color her eyebrows in. True story. She stole food to supplement for her haphazard lifestyle and has to bathe in cafe’s and stuff. She’s a regular Liza Minelli (Though I’m 99% sure that Liza is a little bit of a Kikiphile. Just rewatch Cabaret with a photo of Kiki in one hand. Your welcome) and knew she wanted to make it big. So while freshening up in one of these hip cafes, Kiki makes nice with some artsy fartsy types in Montparnasse.
Soutine is the first to take on little Alice and dub her Kiki. It’s at this point that I would venture to say that when Kiki isn’t posing for Soutine, she’s teaching him all about how to bind the Kama Sutra or something like that…you know what I mean. Do I have to say it? So Kiki realizes that her curvaceous sassy look are a commodity in the Bohemian circle and starts struttin her stuff with iPascin, Derain and Óscar Dominguez, Moise Kisling, Per Krogh and finally Man Ray. Kiki’s face (and ass) is all over Montparnasse and she is in demand by the time Man Ray makes his infamous Le Violon D’Ingres. They have a fling for six years, but now without some scandal. Man Ray literally thinks of Kiki as his muse and recreates the darling. He goes as far as shaving off her eyebrows, repainting them and making up her face himself for each photo/film/painting. Kiki however can’t be the perfect muse and hates to be caged in (you go Kiki!). Apparently, Man Ray is barely keeping little (not really) Kiki’s head above water (and out of the pokey). When she gets into one last bar fight, he realizes its time to call it quits (Though, he is feeling a little hot and bothered by a new beau/photographer friend. That’s another story for another time. Back to Kiki). Kiki doesn’t take it well. But she’s resilient. She hurls a few plates in his general direction and moves on.
Kiki is very careful to keep the line between business and pleasure by taking her ‘talents’ to the (my favorite!!!!!) Burlesques of Montparnasse. So now she’s got a respectable career going and starts Chez Kiki (I like to imagine this when I think of Kiki owning her own Burlesque). So in 1927 she starts showing her amateur paintings and drawings (which are actually pretty descent and telling of her free-spirited lifestyle). I would say this little foray into the arts his Kiki’s own way of telling Man Ray to suck it. Rumours swirl about Kiki’s sexual lifestyle as more and more paintings, photos and films surface and she becomes more famous. See if Kiki hadn’t landed in the laps (literally) of so many famous artists, then her promiscuity would not have raised so many questions. My favorite is the one about her pubes. People actually had discussions about whether she could grow some or if they were painted on. It’s hilarious. Rather than fighting the rumours, her next logical step is to write an autobiography. But not just any autobiography, but a memoir that is banned in America for being rated x (she probably talks a lot about her pubes there). The Education of a French Model is published around 1929 and after moving in with Henri Broca. In the same year, she is named Queen of Montparnasse. Its a big year for Kiki, but its also the end of an era. Things quickly spiral downhill when she’s forced out of her native Paris to avoid the German occupation and all that jazz (damn war).
So what have we learned? There’s a distinct difference between being a lady of the night and being a lady of the night who gets her goodies painted. Really though, Kiki saw a light at the end of the nasty tunnel she was born in and fought her way through it. She lived every bit of the Bohemian aesthetic without trying to make it look glamorous. In a time where women were meant to be seen and not heard, Kiki got out there and strut her stuff like nobodies business and captured a few hearts (and a whole lotta peen) on her way up. Did Kiki know she would be a Bohemian Avant Garde icon? Hellz Yeah! and she worked every minute of it.