Bachelorette parties make us think of two things — penis-shaped paraphernalia, and male strippers. Almost completely opposite to their counterpart - bachelor parties, which are perceived as a test of ‘final temptation’ before marriage, bachelorette parties are about sexual empowerment and reversing gender roles; objectifying the male form for female pleasure and voyeurism. They’re different and novel because women in society aren’t perceived as sexual beings but rather as objects of desire. So the strippers at a bachelorette party become agents of subverting the male and warranting the female gaze.
This tradition began with Chippendales — a touring dance troupe best known for its male striptease performances and for its dancers' distinctive upper body costume of a bow tie, collar, and shirt cuffs worn on a bare torso. It was 1979 when the Chippendales first came on the scene, making their way into the hearts and laps of women everywhere in Los Angeles. An immigrant club owner started the troupe and gave them their name after the classic Chippendales-style furniture that adorned the club where the guys first performed.
We’re talking about the infamous, Steve Banerjee. Born in 1946 in Bombay as Somen Banerjee, the entrepreneur took a twisted road to sucess. He moved to the United States in the late 1960s, where he worked for Mattel, operated a gas station, and even oversaw a failed backgammon club. At the gas station, he had an unpleasant encounter with a bunch of teenagers shoplifting and mocking his Indian accent. This incident made him change his name to Steve and go on a ruthless journey to achieve the American Dream for himself.
It’s believed that Paul Snider, a club promoter and pimp, came across a Gay striptease revue and told Steve that it would be fun to do this just for women. The women’s liberation movement was in full swing in the 60s and 70s and Steve saw this as an opportunity to create a space where women could freely express their sexuality. So he bought a Los Angeles club called Round Robin, later known as Destiny II, and began to plot its success with the launch of an all-male exotic dance show aimed to entertain women which he also marketed as a feminist revolution to LA Times.
But this isn’t your typical ‘immigrant’s American dream-come-true’ story. Chippendales became a massive success by the 80s attracting up to 15,000 customers per month and Snider’s wife Dorothy was instrumental in shaping the club’s iconic look of cuffs and collars and getting Hugh Hefner on board. Meanwhile, Steve brought on the producer, Nick De Noia to choreograph the live shows in 1981. The early shows quickly gave rise to what would become and remain a pop-cultural phenomenon. But Steve always had his insecurities about the business.
In 1979, just as Chippendales was first getting off the ground, he hired someone to burn down Moody’s Disco, a rival nightclub. And five years later, he tried to do the same to the Red Onion restaurant and bar. In the coming years, Banerjee would prove his willingness to go much, much further than arson in order to kneecap his rivals.
A series of gnarly events known as ‘The Chippendale Murders’ began in 1980 when Snider Killed Dorothy before committing suicide for getting involved with Hugh Hefner. Seven years later, De Noia was murdered by a gunman which Steve confessed to having hired, because the producer took credit for creating Chippendales' signature choreography and expanding to a New York location in 1983 which he wasn’t a fan of. Steve was investigated and charged with arson, second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit the murders of two competitive dancers in 1993.
Hulu’s latest drama series, ‘Welcome to Chippendales’ captures the entire history of the club and troupe with comedian, Kumail Nanjiani playing Steve in the show. It has been getting great reviews for its recreation of the times; coke-fueled parties, retro sunglasses, discos, alcohol and ABBA playing everywhere. Spread over 8 episodes, the show touches on the themes of the immigrant experience, the American dream, greed, pride and the cut-throat world of the entertainment business.
Weaving a narrative from the horrid events surrounding the rise and fall of Steve Banerjee, the series sheds light on deeper problems of society like poverty and racism. The lengths that Banerjee was willing to go to, to own and build an empire speaks of his past which was laden with fears and insecurities of not having financial stability in a country you do not belong to. The fact that he chose to change his name with no regard for what it meant for his roots and culture is proof that he was struggling with his identity emotionally. It was like an internal, existential unrest that manifested into the crimes he committed to keep his dream alive. It’s tragic but a classic tale of human passion, ambition and true crime.
Chippendales somehow came out unharmed out of its chaotic early beginnings and laid roots in Las Vegas in 2002. "The Chippendales are still performing to sold-out houses at our home at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas (for over 20 years), as well as our domestic and international tours," the brand confirmed to Entrepreneur. The brand generates between $5 million and $25 million in annual revenue. The exciting, lust-filled arenas of cheering and exulting women remains delightfully unaware of the blood and gore behind the company's origins.