Salacious and provocative, Chippendales became of a household name with its muscular males, strutting their stuff in bowtie, cuffs and eventually barely-there outfits to the delight of women in the 1980s.
Created by Indian businessman Somen Banerjee, Chippendales was an idea to attract another audience to his successful Los Angeles-based nightclub, Destiny II. Inspired by a Canadian male strip club, Banerjee launched the weekly “Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only.”
Banerjee and his business partner, choreographer Nick DeNoia, created an empire on the illicit thrills of women who wanted to openly gawk and experience the male body as object. The moneyed 1980s embraced the concept, and soon there were travelling Chippendales troupes across the US and Canada, with hundreds of women curious to experience what had been a mainstay for the boys for years.
The business grew from clubs to dance groups to merchandise – with the infamous Chippendales calendar selling over a million copies a year and the touring company making $25,000 per week at its peak.
I remember seeing the calendar for sale and being embarrassed by my curiosity about the images. I didn’t know at the time that it was a performance that could be viewed; I was just lured by the over-the-top images of perfect shirtless men.
Since it was an ‘adult’ purchase, most of my friends couldn’t buy it, but somehow someone did acquire it, and we all eagerly looked at the images, polar opposite from any boys we had ever seen ourselves. The images were not our ideals, but fantastical versions of what adult men would ever be to us.
Banerjee’s involvement with Chippendales became notorious – bankruptcy occurred in 1987 with the parent company, and in 1988 the original club in L.A. closed, but the touring company continued, despite several lawsuits of personal injury and discrimination by employees.
DeNoia was murdered in 1987 and Banerjee was a suspect but never charged. He then planned to have former choregrapher Mike Fullington, who worked for rival company Adonis, murdered and was caught by the FBI after the hired gun confessed the plan to kill Fullington and two former Chippendales dancers.
Despite the scandalous end to Banerjee, who committed suicide after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to murder, Chippendales survives with its Chippendales, The Show, a hot headliner at its current headquarters in Las Vegas at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino, with five productions operating in 25 countries.