London GeekMap

Underground Reading: The Black Satin Jungle by Bart Frame

The Black Satin JungleThe Black Satin Jungle (1953) is a vaguely exotic behind-the-scenes expose of the fashion business. Originally titled "Indiscretions of a French Model", the book is heavy on the indiscretions and light on the modeling. 

Our heroine is Louise, a young, French woman who comes over the the US to marry her American soldier. Upon arrival, she discovers that the streets aren't paved with cheese - in fact, her husband is an ass and her in-laws are rude, drunk, smelly and perverted. The best of them - her brother-in-law - is a lazy blackmailer. 

Fortunately, Louise is a knockout. 

She flees the cheese-less slums and moves in with a dumpy (and therefore completely uninteresting) friend who works in the fashion industry. Dumpy friend gets Louise a walk-on as a lingerie model, and everything starts looking up.

Louise soon learns that, in progressive 1953, women that professionally model "sexies" for out-of-town businessmen are shockingly asked to do more than pose. She very firmly toes the line for an entire calendar week - almost two - but peer pressure and cognac combine to lead her down the path of debauchery. A little debauchery (fun!) leads to a lot of self-loathing (boring!), but Louise soon learns to temper her self-disgust with a lot of drunken sexual escapades, so the book's entertainment value never suffers.

Before long, Louise's foolish experiment with "leaving her abusive husband" has brought her to the whirling depths of prostitution. Her daring, hedonistic experiment with "having a career" has punished her - she's become a drunk. She's been ill-used. She's even starting to lose her looks. Fortunately, she repents (for no particular reason) just in time to meet a Nice Guy, who is willing to rescue her from herself. Or, in this case, sort of hang around to pick up the pieces.

Aside: Where do these guys come from? In this case, Jeff is a medical student and former Captain in the Navy. He's apparently good-looking, nice and not a serial killer. His interaction with Louise is pretty limited - and almost entirely negative. They have dinner together once (she never speaks, because she's drunk) and he takes her to psych testing (she scores as a raving lunatic). Yet he's still the best the author can come up as her saviour. By the time he comes around to hold her hand in the hospital, she's a crazy, drunk, married prostitute who is under federal investigation (no lie). WHAT A CATCH!

What do we learn from this book? Certainly nothing about fashion, although I suspect the average male reader of The Black Satin Jungle would've been happy to believe that New York City is bursting to the seams with horny French "models". We do learn important lessons about beauty - for example, it is the only standard by which women should be measured, easily out-stripping such inferior measures as "talent", "intelligence" or "whether-or-not-you're-a-crazy-drunk-prostitute-that's-going-to-prison-forever". Valuable stuff.