Inventors of Gay: Collette

By: Rick Andreoli

Words by Christopher Harrity


This French writer of semi-erotic fiction opened the door for new perceptions of women and female sexuality. She is best known for her novel Gigi on which the Lerner and Lowe musical was based. Her first scandalous fiction — Claudine — was published under her husband’s name. In 1906 she left him and lived with her lover Natalie. She went on to perform on the stage with Mathilde de Morny, with whom she also became romantically involved. In their pantomime Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge (pictured left), their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot. She flaunted her lesbian affairs (Josephine Baker), as well as her straight ones (with her step-son from her second marriage.)

Colette-with-cats Friends with:
Janet Flanner — Paris correspondent for The New Yorker
Jean Cocteau — Art, film, and literature superstar in Paris
Natalie Clifford Barney — American writer and expatriate in Paris, famous for her salons.

Why we care:
This proto-feminist and liberated woman was a role model for the next generation. She influenced Coco Channel in Coco’s own early days as a cabaret star, as well as Edith Piaf. Madonna is certainly an heir to her legacy. See Chéri directed by Stephen Frears, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, and Kathy Bates for more deliciousness.

Great Collette quotes— “Don't ever wear artistic jewelry; it wrecks a woman's reputation.” —can be found on

"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people in LGBT history who helped create the culture we enjoy today.