Fernande Grudet (6 July 1923 – 19 December 2015), also known as Madame Claude, was a French brothel keeper. In the 1960s she was the head of a French network of call girls who worked especially for dignitaries and civil servants.
Born on 6 July 1923 in Angers, France, there are conflicting accounts of Grudet's origins, ranging from an aristocratic father in politics and an education by nuns to a father who ran a small cafe and early work selling food from a pushcart. Another unverified tale about her past includes work as an agent of the French Resistance during the German Occupation of Franceduring World War II and imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. After the war, she worked as a prostitute but claimed she "was never pretty enough" and was better suited to management. By 1961, she had set up what would become the most exclusive prostitution network in Paris for the next decade.
At this time she ran a brothel in the expensive 16th arrondissement of Paris. "There are two things that people will always pay for: food and sex. I wasn't any good at cooking", she is reputed to have said.
Her wealthy clientele included not only political figures, but also members of the Mafia, and her status as an informant to the police ensured she was protected. Her address book, Grudet claimed, had included the names of the Shah of Iran, John F. Kennedy, and Gianni Agnelli, the one-time head of Fiat.
In 1976, the judge Jean-Louis Bruguière began dismantling Grudet's organization. She was being pursued for unpaid taxes, amounting to 11m francs (around £4.9m), and fled to Los Angeles, but returned to France in 1986, serving a four-month jail sentence. After her release, she attempted to set up a new prostitution organization, but in 1992 she was sentenced to a term in Fleury-Mérogis Prison for procuring.
The history of Madame Claude has inspired many writers. Her life was the basis of the feature film, Madame Claude (1977), directed by Just Jaeckin, and starring Françoise Fabian. Grudet died in Nice on 19 December 2015.
- Madam, by Claude Grudet, ed. Michel Lafon (1994): history of Madame Claude by Madame Claude.
- Les filles de Madame Claude, by Elizabeth Antébi and Anne Florentin, Stock-Julliard (1974).
- Madame Claude, by William Stadiem (2018), St. Martin's Press.
- Schudel, Matt (2015-12-25). "Fernande Grudet, who presided over exclusive Paris brothel, dies at 92". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
- Mulholland, Rory (22 December 2015). "Madame Claude, France's most famous brothel owner, dies". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- "The Infamous Madame Claude and Her High-Profile Client List". Vanity Fair. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- Bloom, Dany, Annabel Fenwick Elliott (9 August 2014). "High-class Paris brothel owner Madame Claude reveals all about A-list clients including JFK (who wanted a Jackie lookalike 'but hot')". Daily mail. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- Willsher, Kim (22 December 2015). "Madame Claude, keeper of Paris brothel for the rich and famous, dies aged 92". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- "Fernande Grudet, 92, Dies; Ran High-Society Call-Girl Ring as 'Madame Claude'". New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2015.