Monday, 1 November 2010

The Coiffeur & The Queen

Marie Antoinette (Print), Jean-Francois Janinet, 1777, The British Museum
There are no shortage of celebrity hairdressers in today's world: hairdressers who tend to the styles of the rich and famous and who, in turn, become celebrities themselves. It may seem like a decidedly modern phenomenon in a culture of gossip magazines, reality TV shows and tabloid stars, yet it was the eighteenth century which saw the birth of the first true celebrity hairstylist; a man who enjoyed the patronage of a queen and the ensuing feeding frenzy this caused.

Simply known to his clients as Léonard, he was first introduced to Marie Antoinette in 1774 via her couturier Rose Bertin. Already a known name in French society, Léonard created the now infamous towering style known as the pouf, and thus enchanted the young French queen. As seen in the above print, the hair was combed and lifted high, not only off the forehead, but in fact, the whole head itself. Real hair was combined with false, teased around wire constructions and horse hair pads that gave the structure some integrity. Long strands were curled to hang loose over the shoulders, and the whole, teetering construction was secured with grease-like pomatum and powder. 

Marie Antoinette's wholehearted adoption of the pouf caused a sensation, as French women vied for Léonard's time and attention. Just as Rose Bertin boasted about the fashions she had presented to the queen, so too did Léonard make the most of his royal connection. Interestingly however, Léonard himself only visited the queen once a week, on Sundays; the rest of the time leaving the work to his assistant so that he was able cultivate non-royal clientele at his salon.

Reportedly arrogant and temperamental, Léonard's cutting remarks and aristocratic pretensions (it was even said that he had somehow acquired a pair of red-heeled shoes - the exclusive domain of aristocratic manhood) amused Marie Antoinette and were indulged by clients who still came back for more.

Yet by the late 1770s, there was a very distinct problem with Marie Antoinette's hair that no amount of clever arrangement could conceal. Léonard had to admit defeat: the queen's  hair was falling out. It is thought that a combination of stress and pregnancy (not to mention the application of too much heat) caused her hair to thin and shed over a number of years. In a daring move, Léonard suggested a new cropped hairstyle to his queen and she agreed: the coiffure a l'enfant was born.

The queen's dignity was maintained, Léonards reputation as an artist was once more secure and the great and the good of French feminine society? They flocked to the hairdresser's salon to emulate the latest and most fashionable look. And so, Léonard went where the likes of modern day stylists have followed...a celebrity hairdresser to the ultimate eighteenth century celebrity.

NB- It's worth noting that I have never been able to find an image of Marie Antoinette sporting her short style. Has anybody else ever come across one at all?


  1. Dear Laura,
    I love this post especially as I've read much about Leonard. What a character! I've never seen any images of MA with a her new look after her hair thinned, except for the unbecoming drawing of her when she was en route to be executed.

  2. I love this story! How fantastic to think that Marie Antoinette might have had the first sort of "elfin" haircut later made fashionable and iconic by Jean Seberg... Maybe I'm just finding a connection where there really isn't one though. Fantastic post anyway ;-)

    Thanks for your continued lovely comments, I really appreciate them and am glad if I really do manage to inspire you - or you spend a huge amount of time on a website I mentioned...I'm not taking any responsibility for your bank balance though :-D

    Have a great week, Love from London x

    PS: When's the big move?

  3. Hello Ingrid- Thanks! Everything I've read about Leonard suggests he was pretty obnoxious, but I suppose that rudeness must have had a certain charm! The David sketch of MA on her way to the guillotine is also the only one I've ever seen of her with short hair. I often wonder why. Possibly such a short crop wasn't "queenly" enough?

    Hello Mademoiselle :)

    She really did have the first elfin crop! Move over Jean, Audrey and Mia! I'm glad you made the connections: it makes it all the more interesting.

    I managed to restrain myself on Present & Correct, although I can't be sure how long I will hold out for! I likewise appreciate your lovely comments and encouragement.

    As for the big move...not just yet, but hopefully very soon!

    Have a great day x