Madame Claude, (real name Fernande Grudet) : Brothel keeper to the rich and famous created the high class call girl

December 23, 2015 5:12 pm

 Madame Claude realised there was a demand for high-class prostitutes. Photo / AFP

Madame Claude, (real name Fernande Grudet), who has died aged 92, was
known to the international jet set as perhaps the most famous purveyor
of high-class call girls in the world.
Her career in the vice
trade began in Paris after World War II (in which she claimed to have
worked with the Resistance). Following a brief but not particularly
successful period as a call girl, she astutely realised that the saucy
image of the Parisian prostitute with the enormous cleavage was out of
date and that there was an unmet demand among well-heeled punters for
women who combined beauty and sexual expertise with intelligence and
total discretion.
Opening an establishment on the Quai des
Orfevres in 1961, she recruited women from the Paris catwalks, from the
best colleges, and from the show bars. She hired private tutors in art
and philosophy, sent the women on trips abroad to learn languages and
culture, paid for any necessary plastic surgery, and encouraged them to
broaden their sexual repertoire. Her stroke of genius was to introduce a
system whereby clients booked an appointment over the telephone, giving
rise to the term “call girls”.

Recruitment appears to have been no problem; indeed Madame
Claude maintained she was over-subscribed. “About 20 girls a month would
come to me, and I would choose one,” she recalled. She judged them
initially on “face, figure and intelligence”, before subjecting them to a
final hurdle – a night with one of her “essayeurs”, a team of testers.
those who passed the rewards were substantial. At her height she ran
200 “swans” with 30 to 50 favourites, many of whom could say they did
not get into bed for less than US$10,000 ($14,677) a day. Madame Claude
took 30 per cent of the takings. Among her recruits she claimed to have a
Normandy countess, the daughter of a French Air Marshal, a university
professor, a famous fashion model and the wives of several leading Paris
figures. “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,” one client, a New York banker, was quoted as saying, “you
presumed she was a girl from Claude.”
According to William
Stadiem (who wrote an unpublished biography of Madame Claude), her
clients in the 1960s and 1970s included such figures as Colonel Muammar
Gaddafi, Moshe Dayan, Marlon Brando and “half the French Cabinet”. The
Shah of Iran had a standing order of women flown out to Tehran every
Friday. The painter Marc Chagall gave the women his nude sketches of
them, while the Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli once enjoyed an orgy with a
group then took them all to Mass afterwards.
The more famous the
client the more peculiar his tastes. John F Kennedy wanted a woman who
resembled his wife, Jackie, “but hot”, while Jackie’s second husband,
Aristotle Onassis, who arrived at the brothel accompanied by his then
mistress Maria Callas, made “depraved requests that made Claude blush”.
1976 the French tax authorities began to investigate her finances. To
avoid arrest she fled to Los Angeles, where she remained for a decade.
But attempts to resume her business (during which she tried,
unsuccessfully, to recruit Joan Collins) came to nothing, and she lost a
fortune in a failed patisserie and hotel enterprise. In 1985 she
returned to France believing the statute of limitations meant she was
safe from prosecution. She was wrong and served a four-month prison
sentence, albeit in a converted 17th-century castle, from which she
emerged, unapologetic and unreformed, to revive her old business.
She moved back to Paris, ostensibly to work in a boutique, and started off again.
However, she was found guilty of pimping in 1992 and went back to prison, this time for five years.
After serving her time, she moved to Nice, where she was reported to be living quietly with several cats.
Grudet was born in Angers, western France, on July 6 1923. She
reportedly married twice – for practical reasons. The actress Francoise
Fabian who portrayed her in a 1977 film described her as “une femme
terrible”, or a terrible woman, to whom “men were wallets and women were

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