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Reflection on culture: is hair a reliable mirror of societal change?

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is now hosting an exhibition dedicated to hair and hairs in the Western world and their role in society. Running until 17 September 2023, Des cheveux et des poils (Hair & Hairs) shows how hairstyles, as well as facial and body hair, convey a message, can be a manifesto of a protest, or a symbol of power and seduction.

© Aurélien Farina | Jacob Ferdinand Voet — Portrait of a Man (before 1689), France | © Sotheby’s Art Digital Studio | model image © Virgile Biechy 

© Aurélien Farina | Jacob Ferdinand Voet — Portrait of a Man (before 1689), France | © Sotheby’s Art Digital Studio | model image © Virgile Biechy

As experts from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs explained, “hair is an essential aspect of one’s identity and has often been used as a means of expressing our adherence to a fashion, a conviction, or a protest while invoking much deeper meanings such as femininity, virility, and negligence, to name just a few.”

Founded in the late 19th century, Wella partnered with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs: among the works presented, the exhibition highlights some of the beauty company’s preeminent contributions across products, services and tools, including the first hair dryers with built in motors, archival hair tools, historic marketing materials for products and never-before-seen work by Wella Professionals Global Creative Artist Alexis Ferrer.

Image Courtesy of Alexis Ferre, Wella Global Creative Artist

Image Courtesy of Alexis Ferre, Wella Professionals Global Creative Artist 

The show is also a journey into history and fashion through 600 works from the 15th century to the present. Des cheveux et des poils ends with a selection of garments made from hair: next to gowns by great names in contemporary fashion, such as Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela or Josephus Thimister, the exhibition includes the colourful dresses by hairstylist-cum-designer-cum-creative director Charlie Le Mindu, some of them designed for Lady Gaga.

Marisol Suarez, Perruque tressée (braided wig) 2010 © Photo Katrin Backes  

Marisol Suarez, Perruque tressée (braided wig) 2010 © Photo Katrin Backes

On your journey, you can also admire everything from the elaborate hairstyles of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, to the beard of Henry VIII, as well as all the fashion in wigs and hairpieces, and a carousel of hair clips, combs and other exquisite ornaments.

The exhibition also spotlights some celebrities in the creative universe of hair. These include Léonard Autier, Marie Antoinette’s favourite coiffeur, and Monsieur Antoine, who in the first half of the 20th century was the hairdresser of the divine Marquise Luisa Casati, the Duchess of Windsor, French actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Simone Signoret.

Eugéne Pascau, Fernand Forgues capitaine de l’Aviron Bayonnais, 1912 Huile sur toile © A. Arnold / Musée Basque et de l’Histoire de Bayonne

Eugéne Pascau, Fernand Forgues capitaine de l’Aviron Bayonnais, 1912 Huile sur toile © A. Arnold / Musée Basque et de l’Histoire de Bayonne

The professions and skills of the past and present are highlighted with their iconic figures, such as the great creatives in Paris, including the Carita sisters, Alexandre de Paris and Laurent Gaudefroy, known as the “bun king.” Des cheveux et des poils then ideally travels to London, showcasing the work of Vidal Sassoon and Sam Mcknight, who disrupted hairstyles with their virtuoso scissor strokes.

Historical Wella campaign for the Tempera permanent wave machine, Photo: Wella Company

Historical Wella campaign for the Tempera permanent wave machine, Photo: Wella Company

Get lost in an immersive experience of fashion and extravagance as you explore issues such as the ‘to beard or not to beard’ dilemma that has spanned the centuries or real, natural hair versus fake wigs. Along the way, you will also learn about different hair professions (barbers, barber-surgeons, ladies’ hairdressers, etc.) and the most iconic hairstyles of the 20th and 21st centuries. But it’s not all about vanity, functionality or historical trends. The sections dedicated to the hippy and punk movements and the protests in Iran are there to remind you that hair is a symbol of rebellion and a claim to identity and, ultimately, freedom.

 

 

Silvia Manzoni
Journalist and Beauty expert
School
PARIS
Course
Programme
undergraduate-BA (Hons) Degrees · 3-Year courses