THE heady smell of designer perfume and expensive cigarettes lingered in the air, laughter echoed down the lavishly decorated halls, and corks popped as the best champagne liberally flowed.
It was the 1960s and the sultry high-class call girls at world's most exclusive Parisian brothel in one of the city's expensive neighbourhoods were gearing up for another busy night of business.
The escorts were used to Earls, Dukes, and even Kings frequenting their establishment, and many would go on to marry their wealthy clients.
However, it wasn't all glamour and parties, and now, a Netflix drama focusing on the sex-hating brothel keeper, Madame Claude, out today, is set to show the darker reality.
From bibles… to brothels
Born Fernande Grudet in 1923, Madame Claude, who had one daughter she barely saw, made several wild claims about her past – some of which have since been widely rubbished.
She claimed in her 1974 memoir, Madam, to have been born into aristocracy, and that she'd been imprisoned in concentration camp Ravensbruck after being part of the Resistance during Word War ll, before getting her start in the business world selling bibles door-to-door.
However it's been widely reported that in actual fact she had a relatively normal upbringing and that her dad ran a snack stall at the local train station.
It has also been suggested she fell in with criminals and more than likely sold herself for sex when arriving in Paris in the fifties – not bibles.
'Swans' commanding '$10,000 a day'
In her sixties and seventies heyday, Madame Claude ran a network of around 500 call girls, a glamorous, beautiful bunch, who were known as 'Claudettes'.
Not only were they modelesque and usually around 5ft9in in height, they had to be well-spoken and able to converse intelligently, and in English.
On meeting them, Madame Claude would inspect their teeth, hair and eyes, before making them strip in front of her to see how they would react.
She would pay for their cosmetic surgery, if it was deemed necessary, and her top girls, or"swans", as she dubbed them, were part-time models or unsuccessful actresses who would command fees of $10,000 a day – before later retiring and marrying rich.
A New York banker client reportedly once said: "If you walked into a room in London or Rome and saw a girl who was better-looking, better-dressed and more distinguished than the others, you presumed she was a girl from Claude."
Many of her former employees either married well, getting wed to aristocrats or earls, or went on to have successful Hollywood or modelling career – although their identities were a closely guarded secret.
Priceless portraits and eye-popping sexual requests
Of course, these services – and beautiful women- attracted interest from the world's wealthiest and most influential and well-known famous faces, including presidents, lords and actors.
Among them were Lord Mounbatten, and American president John Kennedy, who apparently requested a Jackie look-alike “but hot.”
Jackie's second husband Aristotle Onassis was also a regular with his mistress, opera singer Maria Callas, who often requested such eye-popping sexual preferences even Madame Claude was said to blush.
Actor clients included Marlon Brando and Rex Harrison, and artist Marc Chagall gave the girls nude sketches of their own naked bodies, which were priceless.
'There are two things people pay for – food and sex'
While her chosen career was within the sex industry, it was common knowledge Madame Claude wasn't keen on sex herself, and seemed to see it as purely transactional.
She famously said: "There are two things that people always pay for – food and sex.
"I wasn't any good at cooking."
But while she made her fortune in selling passionate encounters to the rich, according to friend Sylvette Balland: "She told me that when she was 40 she looked at herself in the mirror and said, 'Disgusting. People over 40 should not have sex'."
'She despised men and women even more'
Despite her celebrity status and her very impressive black book of connections, it seemed Madame Claude was also more focused on making money rather than making friends within the industry.
French actress Francoise Fabian, who played Madame Claude a 1975 film, described her as 'cold' after meeting her.
Fabian added: "She absolutely despised men and even more women.
"For her, the former were wallets and the latter were holes."
Exile and prison
Despite living the high life, it wasn't all glamour for Madame Claude, who usually wore Chanel.
She was chased for about £4.9m in unpaid taxes, so she fled to the US, living in 'exile' in LA where she tried – and failed – trying to enlist Joan Collins into her business exploits and set up a patisserie.
She later returned to France in 1986 to spend four months in jail, where she reportedly had her own maid and hairdresser, and was convicted again in 1992 – after a potential call-girl reported Madame Claude after she told her she was too overweight.
In her later years, she lived a quiet life in the South of France, before dying peacefully at the age of 92 in 2015.
No doubt she took a fair amount of sensational and outrageous secrets with her to the grave.
Madame Claude is available to watch on Netflix from April 2.
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