In 1966, I received a call from a record producer whose name I can’t recall; he was a friend of Vic Lownes, a sidekick of Hugh Hefner who was at the time engaged in setting up the Playboy Bunny Club in London. Sited between the Dorchester and the Hilton on Park Lane, the club was at the time interviewing for the first crew of Bunnies and male minders.
Vic wanted to send a birthday present to Hugh. He wanted me to make a life-sized Bunny doll for him that would be sent by air as a passenger to Chicago, red carpet, first class, with photographers and Champagne—all very Pop art.
So we met and went to lunch. Then, back at his office, the “record man” and Vic were very pleased to share an aspect of their current work that had to do with the applications from women who wanted to be Bunnies. They had made an album they named the Funny Bunnies, which featured photos and statements sent with the application forms. The women in the album were the rejects. The two men were so absorbed in their own amusement they didn’t even notice my lack of response.
Looking back, this was a “how it was” moment: we as women were as yet often passive to situations like these–guys just “doin’” what they thought of as the guy thing.
“Boys will be boys” in mind, I started the commission. I wanted to make the most beautiful ideal woman. I saw her as a woman of “crossed ethnicity”: Asian, African, Caucasian, and Mexican. I had in mind phrases I’d heard–that mixed blood was genetically superior and crossing cultures produced new art. I was going to layer skin tones four deep using the newly invented pantyhose as skin. It didn’t occur to me that this might not be acceptable–nor was I aware of the preponderance of whiteness in the Playboy image. And as it turned out this is not where I ran aground or “broke my molasses jug,” as it were.
I wanted the perfect armature, so I carved the equivalent of a corset-torso with doll-like limbs and neck. The movable joints were from Victorian dolls, the leather arms of the latter I replaced with pink lining satin which I then covered with panty hose skin.
When she was finished, she was bare and ready for her fitting, which was to take place at the now-open Playboy Club. I was to take her in and select the costume that I thought was the appropriate color and material. The resident dressmaker at the club was to make it. I was anticipating the velvet outfit, rather than the satin standard Bunny garb.
When I arrived the dressmaker woman was not ready to see me. I was asked to wait in a corridor outside the main club area–not an area for public access but behind the scenes, taggy and cold. Bunnies came and went; they smoked, took breaks. Tuxedoed male minders patrolled, keeping the girls “at it,” rudely bossing them about if they paused when working or took too long over anything. There was a steady flow of employees, and pretty much without exception the men took note of the doll and offered a sneer/a grope/a remark that they considered tasty (and I found consistently slimy).
I had arrived precisely on time, and thirty or forty-five minutes later I was still being made to wait. I was completely pissed off and had come to the conclusion that this kind of male attention was what was going to happen to this figure from now on. I was hugely angry and walked out.
I let both the producer and Vic know that the deal was off and that I was utterly disgusted by what I’d experienced. I don’t recall their response, if any.
I probably graduated to the Funny Bunnies book.
I really liked this figure and wondered how to give her a new identity. The Bunny was utterly out. I wanted something that was not crass. I was completely comfortable with her being sexually endowed, but where was that to go without her just being an object?
For some reason, the idea of the French maid worked for me. I’d once dressed up as a French maid as a 10- or 11-year old. I’d just learned the song “Au Clair de la Lune” and was very proud of “speaking French.” I dressed up in my stepmother’s short velvet cape as a short skirt and used a placemat as an apron. I served my dad and stepmother a surprise breakfast in bed one weekend, speaking “Clair de la Lune” French. The whole thing was exceptionally well received. I served them French toast, of course.
So French maid to me was good stuff. French women didn’t reside in my mind as chic, but more pert, independent, self-assured, sexy. The France of my mind was racially mixed and assertive. It wasn’t Playboy.
My French maid is essentially “Hollywood French,” really (you won’t find French toast in France). Despite the short skirt, the satin–broderie anglaise–she is not the object of the “play” boy: she is a working girl.
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