Regine Choukroun’s mother left her 5 year old daughter and younger brother in the care of their father Joseph and never returned. Joseph was a card playing jam maker whose fortunes came and went like the fox cape and jewels he gave and took back from his many wives and girlfriends.
That little five year old girl grew up to be the entrepreneurial owner of 25 nightclubs in more than a dozen cities.
In the early eighties, you could party at one of her clubs on three continents for 17 hours out of every 24. That is, if you could get in. Regine has always cultivated her life story carefully. Spend an hour with her and she will regale you with tales of the twelve-foot pet boa constrictor given to her by Federico Fellini, the weeklong fasts she undertakes before opening a club, her abilities as a judo master and turbojet pilot.
“Once, I flew with her to Paris on the Concorde, and she was the only person I ever saw who didn’t have to show her passport at Customs,” says Diane Von Furstenberg. “It was just, Bonjour, Madame Regine.”
Her first club, Chez Regine, which opened in Paris in 1958, was certainly an original: it was the spot where customers like Brigitte Bardot and Rudolf Nureyev first danced to recorded music instead of live bands; where they first bought bottles of liquor instead of cocktails; where they first did the twist to imported Chubby Checker records. “One night, I got a call at home from the Duke of Windsor,” she recalls. “He wanted me to come to his house, to teach him the twist. I told him, ‘No. You come to my club — I teach you there.’ “
Nureyev by Avedon
Regine specialized in “happenings,” like the Jean Harlow night where the women wore white satin dresses and painted their Rollses white for the night, stepping out of them onto a white carpet that covered the sidewalk — Dalí turned heads by arriving on the arm of his lover, Amanda Lear, rumored to have once been named Alan.
Keith Moon and Amanda Lear by Richard Young
In 1975 Regine decided to move to Manhattan. She packed 200 pounds of Vuitton luggage and 800 pairs of shoes into a steamboat and moved into the eleventh floor of the Delmonico Hotel, which she decorated just like her clubs, all Art Deco mirrors, brocade couches and snake-wrapped lamps.
The club was so exclusive and exclusionary that the State Liquor Authority considered suing her for social discrimination. Expelled by Regine for knocking over a table of wineglasses with her hoop skirt, Dewi Sukarno, the wife of the former Indonesian president, filed a $4 million lawsuit against the nightclub. She ended up winning one franc.
But by the end of the decade, the party began to wind down. “You didn’t feel like you could start doing cocaine on the tables at Regine’s, although it did happen once,” says society chronicler Bob Colacello, who accompanied Warhol on a tour of her clubs around the world. “She wasn’t giving out quaaludes to movie stars, she didn’t have bartenders with their shirts off. She didn’t have what people wanted when the times changed.”