Iconic, glamorous, unique. Who doesn't know about Studio 54? The mythical nightclub where you could see the biggest stars mingle with the New York underground scene. A place where anything was possible, where you had the freedom to have fun and be as extravagant as you wanted. Get to know the legend behind our frame of the same name.
On the 26th of April 1977, impresarios Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager opened Studio 54, a nightclub that has been the subject of fascination and revery for over five decades. Studio 54’s infamy has made an indelible impression on American music and pop culture. Studio 54 remains what many people consider to be New York’s greatest night club of all time.
Sitting at 254 W on 54th Street in Broadway, New York, the club opened its doors for the first time with an amazing hype built up, not only due to its prime location but because of the guest list that was prepared for months in advance. Think Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Rod Stewart, just to name a few. It was the time when people needed drugs, alcohol, and sex to have fun and this was most predominant within the rich, the famous, and the egocentric. This demographic is what made up the exclusive population that would go crazy beyond any limits within Studio 54.
To really understand the immense success of the nightclub, we mustn’t forget about the time period of its opening. This was the height of the Disco Era, a music movement that was at the intersection of the black, latino, and Italian communities in America. Liberating, disco allowed LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities to escape a little through dance and music. We must also consider that this was an era of freedom and political uncertainty for New York, feeling the impacts of Nixon’s resignation, the end of the Vietnam War, as well the growing Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, and LGBTQ movements. It was a time of cultural transition, where people were chasing escapism and experimenting, whether through music, clothing, drugs, or art that drove Studio 54 to the top. And so, a nightclub that gave people the chance to dance their troubles away and experiment with complete freedom was an undoubtable hit.
While Studio 54’s story was a short one being open for a little under 3 years, the part-performance venue, part-nightclub completely changed the club scene. It was an incubator for subcultures, and will always to this day remain an impactful landmark of time.
Studio 54 was multicultural; it didn’t matter what your socio-economic status was. Sexuality, race, gender, wealth was irrelevant—to get into Studio 54 you only had to look fabulous and once you got past those velvet ropes everyone was equal—fashion designers, models, and celebrities mingled freely with everyday people from all parts of the city
The culture of escapism and cultural inclusivity created a safe space for self-expression. Artists, musicians, designers, and all types of people were able to explore their creativity and identity without barriers. People felt safe enough to really let go. Reminiscing Studio 54, Grace Jones said ''There were the beautiful people, the poseurs, the fantasists... It was all about the mix of people, all in one place.''
But at the same time, you did feel like an insider when, and only if, you passed those velvet ropes.
CULTIVATING EXCLUSIVITY AND WANTING IN
While the crowd was indeed composed of diverse and eclectic walks of life, club owners also did their part of cultivating a strong sense of exclusivity by tailoring their guest list. All the biggest stars of the '70s and '80s were regulars. Think of Cher, Elton John, Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli. It just makes sense. If you want to have have the hottest to-go place in town where all your wildest dreams and fantasies become reality, it needs to be a cool epicentre where the attendee list is restricted to insiders-only. You know what they say, what happens at Studio 54 stays at Studio 54…
The key to a good party is filling a room with guests more interesting than you
And so, every night the line to get inside the club was never-ending – everyone wanted a piece of the escapism and would do anything to try to get in. At the entrance, you had door men with clipboards who would quickly decide if you got in judging your look or your attitude, telling you with a simple thumbs up or down. The doorman was also paid more than anyone just so he wasn’t tempted to take bribes. But that didn’t mean people didn’t try.
With anything in life that is desirable, there will always be some who will try and prey on the vulnerable. In Studio 54’s case, scammers took advantage of the situation. They started selling maps of rumoured to be underground metro tunnels that ‘’led’’ to Studio 54. They weren’t cheap to come by either. One of these maps would set you back thousands of dollars. The sad part of it all is that it was completely fake. Although we can all laugh at the fools who were caught in these scams, there were some devastating repercussions that came from all of this. One early morning, a man was found dead in the tunnels after he slipped. He was found wearing a tuxedo and in his hands was one of those fake maps. There are many other stories like one of a man who got stuck in a vent trying to get in. People would even try to get into the courtyard by climbing down from the next door building in mountain-climbing gear. This really demonstrates the length and effort people were willing to put into being able to see the inside of Studio 54.
THE MEMORABLE - AND WILD - STORIES
A big part of Studio 54’s legacy lies in the wild stories that took place on location. The club’s carefree mentality combined with the sense of privacy made it a place where you could see pretty much anything you could ever imagine in your wildest dreams. In Andy Warhol’s posthumous diary published in 1989, he recalls many stories of the sex, drugs & disco music lifestyle that happened behind the club’s walls. And like Steve Rubell said, “We’re all going crazy because of what Andy said about us in the Diaries but nobody can do anything because it’s all true!”
An iconic Studio 54 memory we can’t shake from our minds is Bianca Jagger’s 30th birthday, then married to Mick Jagger. She arrived at the party on a white horse, dressed by designer Halston and Manolo Blahniks for her footwear. Adding to this oil painting worthy scene, leading her was a naked man covered with gold glitter. For many of us, this moment would become a symbol of the Studio’s over-the-top reputation.
Along with the club’s celebrity guest list, you also had eccentric regulars like Disco Sally. She was a tiny 77-year-old retired lawyer who discovered the disco scene and soon became a regular and a star at Studio 54. Accompanied by a young man named John, she would dance nonstop till the early hours of the morning, and in some instances, past sunrise taking only bathroom and cocaine breaks. People said she danced with the energy of a 30-year-old and was always dressed in tight pants and high-top sneakers.
As you’ve probably heard many times before, there were also some more ‘’private’’ activities happening in the Studio’s exclusive basement and the infamous rubber room. Anything could happen in this nightclub from women dancing topless to acrobats on the dance floor covered with glitter.
THE END OF AN ERA
As you may know, Studio 54’s wild stories were not limited to the attending guests. The owners also got their fair share of publicity, constantly involved in scandals. In 1978, they got their alcohol license suspended as a consequence of their dodgy business. Turns out it really didn’t matter to anyone as the drugs were more than enough for them to resume partying. People say the establishment even hired a man whose job was to cut cocaine lines for people.
Quoted in the city's newspapers, Steve Rubell said that Studio 54 had made $7 million in its first year and that "only the Mafia made more money". Of course that got the attention of the IRS, and on the night of December 31st 1979, the nightclub was raided and both owners were arrested for tax evasion and were each given a sentence of three and a half years of prison. During the raid, they also found millions of dollars in drugs.
Before going to prison, they threw one last big - and extravagant - party on February 2-3 1980, which really symbolized the end of an era. Their very own “Coup de Grace”. Both Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were serenaded by Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli, while Rubell sang “I Did It My Way” to the club and all its guests, wearing nothing less than a Frank Sinatra–style fedora. Reminiscing about the past, in 2018, Schrager said “it was so preposterous. What were we thinking?”
They ended up getting out after a brief 13 month bid. Unfortunately, upon their return home, the glory days had come to an end. Although the building was sold in late summer of 1981, Studio 54 reopened the following month to later close its doors permanently in 1986. The building still stands to this day serving as a performance venue, while the basement is a dinner theatre / bar called 54 Below.
Often referred to as New York’s greatest night club of all time, Studio 54 was a place of great music, at the peak of the disco era led by DJs and live performances. It was the place to escape and dance all night, and many say that disco died the day the club closed its doors. Studio 54 and fashion also went hand-in-hand, naturally. A place full of designers, models, and other creatives who would show up “Dressing to impress”. Bodysuits, slip dresses with slits and funky patterns have all become synonymous with Studio 54’s fashion legacy.
Even though the original nightclub was only open for a little under 3 years, the impact it had on music, fashion, art, culture and most importantly on the club scene still stands to this day. As they say, the best stories are often the shortest.
About our Studio 54 frame
As an hommage to the legendary nightclub, Studio 54 is a bold frame with a revisited square-round shape. A fully assumed retro inspiration that will transport you to a moment in the late '70s at the height of disco music.