A Historical Look at Studio 54

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From world-famous ateliers to designer hotspots, Historical Interiors is your weekly column for iconic decor, rare residential imagery, and cultural fashion landmarks.

Since its opening 42 years ago today in New York City, Studio 54 set the bar so high that no other nightclub has come close to matching its magnitude. Though it lasted a mere 33 months, the illustrious Midtown Manhattan disco wonderland managed to make history through dance and debauchery, unparalleled to any other past or present club on the planet. And though its tragic end was just as dramatic as its life, one thing is clear: there could never be another like it.

By its extraordinary guest list alone, Studio 54 could have been a locale fabricated in fiction, but the photos and people who were there endure as proof. It was an otherworldly collision of fashion designers (Halston, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Diane von Fürstenberg); musicians (Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Cher, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, Dolly Parton); artists (Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali); models (Iman, Lauren Hutton, Gia Carangi, Jerry Hall and Beverly Johnson), Hollywood (Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minelli); socialites; and everyday people. They all walked in the door—for its strict door policy, Studio 54 has been credited as one of the first clubs to instate the use of velvet ropes—and mingled on the dance floor. As legend goes, Grace Jones invited the band Chic to Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve of 1977. They were turned away at the door and subsequently wrote their hit, “Le Freak.”

Myra Scheer, who worked the door at Studio 54, described the feeling of club goers allowed entrance into the legendary space: “Once someone got inside—whether they were a regular, it was their first time, or they were a celebrity—they had to pass through me and into what I called ‘The Corridor of Joy’ because you could hear the audible screams of the first timers that got in for that night. [The sound] would literally be bouncing off the walls.” The hall was everyone’s first impression of the club, decorated with crystal chandeliers, mirrors, and carpet.

Studio 54’s founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, were two friends from Brooklyn who refurbished a former CBS television studio into a decadent dreamworld at 254 West 54th Street. While Rubell occupied himself with the external affairs of the club like the meticulous selection of guests on any given evening, Schrager invested time in the interior: seating and furniture that was close to the ground, crimson walls, metallic silver gliding stages, flashing lights everywhere, and a deck where tired dancers could relax and observe the 2000 plus people below on the main floor. Then there were the manufactured gusts of wind, fake snow, dense fog, tornadoes, sunrises, and sunsets all created within the walls of the club.

In the three short years that Studio 54 was alive, Schrager updated the interior annually. He once claimed that “in order to keep people excited and continue to always keep them guessing what would be coming next, we kept updating the visuals and the set, perhaps made it more sophisticated and refined to keep it fresh and relevant.”

While the various iterations of the interior kept the guests in anticipation of what would come next, the antics inside created another layer of buzz. Studio 54’s history goes hand in hand with the fairy-tale-like story of Bianca Jagger, who rode a white horse in the club on her birthday. A statuesque, naked man covered in glitter led both Jagger and the horse around the main floor. Another memorable occasion happened during the birthday party of Valentino Garavani. His partner, Giancarlo Giammetti organized a circus-themed fete with mermaids on trapezes while the designer himself was the ringmaster. These events, coupled with the openness of drug use and sex, made it seem mythic. In the basement, there were mattresses and on the balcony, there were spaces for couples (or more) to indulge.

But it couldn’t last forever. Due to Rubell’s callous statement, “only the Mafia does better,” the IRS raided the club and both Schrager and Rubell served 13 months in prison for tax evasion. In 1989, Rubell fell victim to the AIDS epidemic. In 2017, President Obama later pardoned Schrager.

Today, the physical space functions as a theatre for Broadway productions, but for many, the name Studio 54 conjures up late 1970s excess, fashion, glamour, disco and celebrity. And only in a place like New York City, in a space dreamed up by Rubell and Schrager, and with a star-studded clientele could it have happened there.

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createdAt:Tue, 23 Apr 2019 19:26:27 +0000
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