There are few places that embodied the free-spirited, vibrant culture of the 1970’s quite like Studio 54. With its lavish, over-the-top parties, the club became the ultimate hotspot for the bon vivant crowd. Movie stars, socialites, politicians and rock legends let loose in this hedonistic playground, and NYC-based photographer Sonia Moskowitz was there to capture all the extravagance.
Moskowitz was a young photographer trying to break into the entertainment world when a publicist asked her to cover the club’s opening night. She agreed and quickly became one of Studio 54’s regular photographers, spending her nights with a front row view to the famously decadent soirees.
“You would walk in and you could just feel the energy,” she said. “The music was blasting and people were dancing everywhere. There were usually themed nights and they did an amazing job with décor and everyone would be dressed up in crazy outfits, even the busboys.
“Some of the events were so memorable, like the Fellini-themed party or the one night they had trapeze artists swinging from the ceiling. They even had a party where little people were dressed up in lavish costumes sitting at a dinner table — it was the craziest thing.”
Studio 54 was a revolving door of the biggest celebrities. On any given night you could find club regulars like Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Diane von Furstenberg, Halston and Diana Ross lounging in the VIP area or out on the dance floor.
“The owner, Steve Rubell, had a way of making the celebrities feel comfortable. Sometimes there would be a special event, like Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday party, and they’d all be lined up in the VIP area, and we could just walk over and shoot them,” Moskowitz said. “The celebrities were very uninhibited. Usually everyone who came there wanted to be photographed.”
The excitement was contagious, but rather than joining in on the party, Moskowitz found more enjoyment as an observer.
“Once you were on the dance floor and the strobe lights were going off, your flash blended in and you became inconspicuous,” she said. “I didn’t want any posed photographs and just wanted people dancing, which wasn’t a problem — Studio 54 was a free-for-all.”
The stories behind some of Sonia Moskowitz’s favorite photos:
“I was often interested in photographing groups interacting at Studio 54. The woman in the photo is Tara Tyson Kulukundis, a stage actress who was married to a wealthy Greek shipping tycoon. She is cocooned in an ermine fur coat and has an imposing walking stick in her hand. On her right is fashion designer Jacques Bellini. The moment in time is almost silently sublime, as they gaze in different directions yet are entwined in each other.”
“Bianca Jagger was a regular attendee at Studio 54. This photo was taken at a party held in her honor by the designer Halston. The doves were a gift from him, at a time when she was going through a separation from her husband, Mick Jagger. On her right is Steve Rubell, the co-owner and public face of Studio 54. He doted on Bianca, and she in turn, doted on him. When the doves were released, Bianca held one in her hands.”
“This photo was taken on September 20, 1978, at the after party for the launch of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume. Yves Saint Laurent and other notable attendees could watch the revelry on the dance floor from their perch in the VIP area. Steve Rubell gave the go ahead to the photographers, and we had permission to shoot this galaxy of fashion world icons. In the photo, an imperious Halston is summoning a waiter, while Lou Lou de la Falaise, Saint Laurent’s muse, looks on. Saint Laurent sits in the center of the frame as Potassa, a transgendered woman and glamorous habitué of Studio 54 speaks in his ear. Nan Kempner, the society and fashion icon who was a big patron of Saint Laurent, is on his right. As a photographer, having this intoxicating mix of the ‘Gods of the moment,’ all arranged on a banquette, was the icing on the cake.”
“Here is Bianca Jagger dancing with one of her favorite partners, Sterling St. Jacques, at Studio 54. St. Jacques was an actor and model who walked in shows for Halston and Givenchy, among others. He was an amazing and acrobatic dancer and twirled the likes of model Pat Cleveland, Caroline Kennedy, Bianca and many others. It is a photographer’s dream to be able to shoot totally uninhibited and joyful exhibitionism like this.”
Explore more of the fabulous moments Sonia Moskowitz captured from Studio 54 at Getty Images.