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16-08-2012
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Is Zahia Dehar an appropriate muse for Karl Lagerfeld?
Despite her best efforts, Zahia Dehar is still best known in France as a footballer's birthday present. The 20-year-old surprise new muse and protege of the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was not long ago a teenage, underaged prostitute who met clients in VIP bars around Paris's Champs-Elysées while her mother apparently thought she was at sleepovers with schoolfriends, and was paid for sex by one of France's most famous football stars.
In 2009, she was flown to Munich for a night in a luxury hotel by the French international football star Franck Ribéry, allegedly as a birthday treat for himself to mark his 26th. At the time, he was a winger for Bayern Munich earning a stratospheric salary, a French national hero with a seemingly unshakable image back home as a funny, ugly Mr Wholesome, who had dragged himself up from a deprived early life on one of the poorest estates in northern France, was disfigured by a childhood carcrash, married his childhood sweetheart, was a good dad and an observant convert to Islam who symbolised the mixed identities of France. Then it emerged that Dehar had been quietly flown over to Germany to order by Ribéry when she was aged only 17. Paid-for sex is illegal below the age of 18 in France.
Birthdaygate, revealed as part of a police investigation into alleged pimping, became part of one of the biggest sex scandals ever to hit French sport, tarnishing French football and hindering the French team during its fraught South Africa World Cup in 2010. But the case is back on the front pages this week as Ribéry, and his French team-mate, the Real Madrid star striker Karim Benzema, who allegedly paid for sex with Dehar on another occasion, have been ordered to stand trial for soliciting an underage prostitute. Also in the dock will be an array of men and women, some accused of "aggravated pimping".
The case is the latest high-profile inquiry involving celebrities and the issue of paid-for sex in France. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF and one-time presidential hopeful, is currently under formal investigation over complicity in a pimping operation after women linked to a suspected Lille prostitution ring were allegedly procured for orgies he attended. The inquiry has been extended to examine alleged group rape over the question of whether one sex-worker was forced. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers argue he did not know the women were paid. He denies any violence.
As for Ribéry and Benzema, the judge's order that their case should go to the criminal court has shocked France. Last November, the state prosecutor recommended charges be dropped, stating that neither man had known Dehar was under 18. The trial promises to lift the lid on a disturbing world of money, minors and paid-for sex just as the new French women's minister stresses her ambition to "abolish" prostitution from France. But the saga is also an insight into modern-day celebrity culture in France, the grim underbelly of Champs-Elysées bars, modern immigration and young people from the rundown suburbs who make it big.
Perhaps the strangest element of all is Dehar herself, who is now so famous she is known only by her first name. Since the story broke, she has been taken under the wing of Lagerfeld and other big fashion and art names, encouraged in a new career path as a luxury lingerie designer, staging elaborate catwalk shows in Paris fashion week. Her pieces are crafted by the top haute-couture artisans, and French actors have taken frontrow seats to watch models emerge from fridges and cupcakes, or ironically wrapped in ribbons as gifts, and Dehar herself emerging as a giant Barbie clone from a plastic box. She has been photographed by the artists Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle and held exhibitions of works inspired by her, including metal mouldings of her body. With a shock of peroxide blonde hair extensions, she has made the cover of international magazines, styled like an Algerian-born reinvention of Brigitte Bardot. She has also starred in a short film as a Frankenstein's monster-like sex-object invented by men in white coats.
Lagerfeld says she is so fascinating precisely because she is a reminder of France's 18th-century courtesans, the paid mistresses of the rich and powerful, "a purely French tradition that the whole world admired and copied".
All this poses a quandary for feminists. On the one hand, why shouldn't a former sex-worker be able to launch a fashion career and move on? But then her constant packaging as pneumatic sex-doll seems to glamorise and glorify what the trial could starkly reveal as illegal pimping and underage sex. Designers and gallery owners insist she embodies "French gallantry" and "her body is a language".
As Dehar tells it, at 5pm one day in April three years ago, police officers arrived at her mother and stepfather's modest home in a grey, nondescript suburb of Paris, asking to question her. For months, the vice squad had been investigating allegations of pimping at one of the bars around the Champs-Elysées, the Zaman Cafe, when they realised one of the women on their radar, Dehar, was a minor. Prostitution is legal in France but, as in the UK, activities around it – pimping, soliciting, brothels and running organised networks – are not. In the case of prostitution, a young person is a minor until 18.
Police had placed men suspected of pimping under phone surveillance and told Dehar they knew details of her "activity". Her mother and stepfather apparently did not. Born in the Algerian town of Ghriss, Dehar arrived in France with her mother and one of her brothers when she was 10, speaking no French, after her parents' messy divorce. She has hinted at difficult years with nowhere to stay at first and "sad moments" at the hands of "bad, cruel" family contacts in France, once telling Libération: "If I talk too much about it, I'll come over as a depressive." In Algeria, she enjoyed primary school and wanted to be a pilot; in France, she bunked off, quit school and enrolled in a beauty course. She began going to bars off the Champs-Elysées at the age of 14. She told Paris Match her first paid-for sex was with a client celebrating his birthday; she had celebrated her 16th shortly before. She said she charged €2,000 a night or €500 for a "moment of pleasure". She said she thought of herself as "an escort girl, not a prostitute", arguing she was "never part of a network. I don't give my money to anyone. I do what I want, I have paid or unpaid sex with who I want. No one makes me and when I don't want to, it's no." She referred to men who pointed her towards "big clients" not as pimps, but friends.
She told police her first football star client was Benzema, who was born to Algerian parents and grew up on an estate in Lyon. She said they met in a Paris nightclub when he was 18. The alleged paid-for sex took place in 2008 when she was 16 and he was 20. Benzema's lawyers say he is "innocent" and would explain himself in court.
Dehar said Ribéry had first flown her to Munich, paying for flights and a hotel for his birthday night, and then met her twice again in France when, she told Paris Match: "It was hard to get him to pay me, but he did all the same." Asked by the magazine whether he had been "kind" to her, she said: "I gave him what he wanted. He wasn't particularly gallant, nor polite, nor even that nice. I came to do my work." He was "a client like any other".
Crucially, Dehar told investigators neither footballer had known her age.
Ribéry's lawyer this week said that sending the case to trial was "surprising and unfair", arguing that Ribéry did not know Dehar was underage at the time. During the investigation, Ribéry, whose image has suffered hugely and who complained his family had been hurt by the case, told the German paper Bild he wasn't scared about his future or career because: "I never knowingly did anything wrong."
When the announcement of the trial came this week, Dehar's lawyer said it was "neither good nor bad news" for her. She had moved on. Her first underwear collection – the production of which was funded by an Asian investment company – will go on sale in January. More exhibitions are planned. And the French actor Isabelle Adjani wants to make a documentary film about her, declaring herself firmly "in the camp of those who want to love her" and saying Dehar's path to fame had been "moving and troubling".
Her latest press release describes her as "Zahia, an artist, a stylist, a muse, and soon an icon". She is promoted as a quintessential example of the best of "made in France". Over the past few weeks, she has tweeted pictures of her body in a red bikini in southern France. Earlier this year, sitting in her plush rented Paris apartment on a sofa shaped like a pair of red lips for an interview for Libération, she came across as shy, soft-spoken and only really relaxed in the presence of her lapdogs. She and her PR consultant brushed aside questions about whether some kind of rich benefactor is funding her new life. She said her two years selling sex were firmly over. Asked why she did it, she paused and replied: "For the money". Her agent interjected: "But also for the social advancement, eh, Zahia? A way to get on in life?" The journalist asked if she was irritated by always being reduced to sex, to being a sex symbol. Dehar replied: "Me, I don't know what I am, in fact. It's other people who know …" (guardian.co.uk)
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16-08-2012
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Lagerfeld says she is so fascinating precisely because she is a reminder of France's 18th-century courtesans, the paid mistresses of the rich and powerful, "a purely French tradition that the whole world admired and copied".
Excuse me? Evidence please?

Sometimes if I'm not sure if Lagerfeld is trolling us or not...

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16-08-2012
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^ Actually he's kind of right. Back then courtesans were trend setters in fashion and beauty, taste makers in the arts and were generally more educated and more exposed to the world than most women, particularly in the upper classes.

Think of Madame de Pompadour or the Countess de Castiglione (later century, but same idea). Pompadour has an actual hairstyle named after the one she wore and popularized throughout Europe, and I believe she popularized some kind of porcelain as well, among other things. Castiglione, on the other hand, was one of the most photographed women at a time when photography was new.

Karl does say some crazy s***, such as comparing an underage escort to women who made seduction and charm an art form, but the man does know his history.

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Last edited by Spike413; 16-08-2012 at 03:56 PM.
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16-08-2012
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^Even being a Karl fan, I have to disagree. There isn't anything in history to suggest that courtesans were a "purely French tradition that the whole world admired and copied". Courtesans were around in ancient China, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome, for example.

And I would say that Zahia Dehar's situation is a little different from Pompadour's and Castiglione's.

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16-08-2012
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^ Yeah, when I hear "courtesan" my mind goes directly to Veronica Franco in Renaissance Venice, not to France (sorry!).

She's no more of an appropriate muse for Karl than his cat or Alice Dellal, so... really. I don't really think it's that big of a deal.

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16-08-2012
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Oh Karl...*shakes head*
...Coco Chanel must rotate in her grave!

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16-08-2012
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no no no no no!

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16-08-2012
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Originally Posted by blueorchid View Post
She's no more of an appropriate muse for Karl than his cat or Alice Dellal, so... really. I don't really think it's that big of a deal.
Aww, I like Choupette.

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16-08-2012
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^Even being a Karl fan, I have to disagree. There isn't anything in history to suggest that courtesans were a "purely French tradition that the whole world admired and copied". Courtesans were around in ancient China, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome, for example.

And I would say that Zahia Dehar's situation is a little different from Pompadour's and Castiglione's.
I didn't say that he was right in stating that the admiration of courtesans, or courtesans themselves for that matter, was a purely French thing. I was saying that he's absolutely 100% correct in stating that courtesans were, once upon a time, emulated and admired.

Not really sure why this is such a shocking development. I mean, this is the same guy who once put a porn star on his runway (I think it was for Fendi). Besides, he's had some questionable muses for a while now.

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Last edited by Spike413; 16-08-2012 at 09:14 PM.
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16-08-2012
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Karl has been very forthcoming with his belief that paid-for sex is the only good kind, so this comes as no surprise ...

Her comment about not knowing who she is ... that seems to me the crux of the problem. Rather than designing lingerie, being Karl's pet, etc., she would be well-served to answer that question first and foremost ...

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16-08-2012
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It's Karl Lagerfeld. He should basically be ignored on all issues not directly related to fashion.

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16-08-2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spike413 View Post
I didn't say that he was right in stating that the admiration of courtesans, or courtesans themselves for that matter, was a purely French thing. I was saying that he's absolutely 100% correct in stating that courtesans were, once upon a time, emulated and admired.

Not really sure why this is such a shocking development. I mean, this is the same guy who once put a porn star on his runway (I think it was for Fendi). Besides, he's had some questionable muses for a while now.
I think we interpreted the quote differently. I assumed that he meant that the "whole world admired and copied" the French tradition of courtesans, rather than the world admired and copied courtesans, who happened to often be French.

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17-08-2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spike413 View Post
I didn't say that he was right in stating that the admiration of courtesans, or courtesans themselves for that matter, was a purely French thing. I was saying that he's absolutely 100% correct in stating that courtesans were, once upon a time, emulated and admired.
Well, not all courtesans were admired... not the "low-class" ones (kind of what Zhaia is... let's be real, I doubt she's writing poetry in her spare time).

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17-08-2012
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I don't even know who she is...like a Kardashian in France?

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17-08-2012
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Well, not all courtesans were admired... not the "low-class" ones (kind of what Zhaia is... let's be real, I doubt she's writing poetry in her spare time).
I never said all courtesans were admired.

There's a world of difference between a courtesan and a "courtesan".

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