Teen spirit: The 'Skins' sensation sweeping France
The Channel 4 teen drama isn't just a cult show in France – it has inspired a wild party scene.
Traditionally, the French are meant to turn an unimpressed Gallic nose up at the paltry British sex life. They are the romantically, erotically inclined ones, so it goes, their British cousins fumbling and frigid. How curious, then, to find a new generation of French people looking across the Channel for amorous inspiration.
French teenagers are embracing free love and organising their own large-scale parties at which drink and drugs flow freely, the dancefloor is for kissing, and the garden is an overflow boudoir for when things get extra-steamy.
But here's the strange part: the partygoers aren't just indulging in regular, hormonally-charged hedonism. They're paying homage to a group of fictional British teens.
"Le Skins parties" are organised by French fans of Skins, the Channel 4 series about misbehaving adolescents. First shown in the UK in 2007, its representation of sixth-form students' wild parties quickly became popular across the channel.
Photographer Claudine Doury glimpsed inside a Skins party in a Parisian suburb earlier this year, and these pictures are her record of that night. Entry cost 20 euros, 10 if you brought a bottle, and there were plenty of drugs on the menu, too. But the parties are also scrupulously organised; a security guard is hired to keep an eye on anyone who's overdone it and to keep away undesirables.
"This young guy's parents had gone away, and he invited three or four hundred people on Facebook to a party in his house," says Doury. "They were all between 16 and 18 – the oldest was 20."
Doury describes scenes of sexual abandon. Delighted young men ask a girl if they can kiss her, and she usually says yes. If things progress, they head to the garden, where bodies sprawl across the grass.
But surely drinking, drug-taking and snogging are teenage party staples? So what's unusual about a Skins party? And why do French teens need British TV to show them how to misbehave?
"To be so free is special," insists Doury. "The most incredible thing was people being sexual in front of everybody – you didn't see too much though, because the security guard would ask them to go out into the garden. It's completely free: 'no limits, no limits', they're always saying.
"The freedom is inspired by the TV show. The foreignness of the series is very fashionable and attractive to French teenagers."
The influence of the TV show can also be seen in guests' outfits. Mimicking a scene from the series, dancers don masks, preserving a degree of anonymity that perhaps makes total abandon a little easier.
But while Doury says that most partygoers "like to hide themselves", there's also plenty of flesh on show. Some girls wear just knickers – Doury snapped an appropriately Union Jack-patterned pair – and flimsy dresses are popular. "It was very practical: they know what to wear so they are not completely naked, but so they can touch each other."
While Skins parties have gone official – you can pay to go to them in clubs, or even on a boat on the Seine – the most popular is the old-school house party. "They all prefer parties in a family house, because you can smoke inside and drink underage," says Doury. The homeowners, she says, usually have no idea they've played host, and organisers put up special material on the walls or even repaint them afterwards. Although the aim isn't total destruction of the venue, things often get messy.
Skins parties have occurred in the UK too – one family home reportedly suffered £25,000 of damage after a Skins-themed event. But the trend didn't take off in quite the same way that it has done in France. Maybe British teenagers take a more sceptical view of on-screen antics (Skins is routinely defended with the argument that it's just entertainment, rather than a realistic portrayal of youngsters' lifestyles). Or maybe the tables have turned – and it's now the French taking their sexual cues from the Brits. Well, in the rarefied land of teenagerdom at least.
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