Wella Company and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris present the exhibition entitled ‘Des Cheveux et des Poils’ to the public. From April 5th until September 17th, 2023.
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris apparently considers hairdressing a “decorative art“; arts or crafts whose object is the design and manufacture of objects that are both beautiful and functional. For this reason it is continuing in its exploration of the relationship between the body and fashion with ‘Des Cheveux et des poils‘ (Hair & Hairs). This exhibition is a historical journey of hair styles and body hair grooming. And Wella Company, the iconic beauty company, is partnering with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to sponsor this highly original exhibition. The focus will bring to life the historical, cultural and personal influence hair, hairstyles and grooming have made on personal appearance and societal perception through the centuries.
Indeed, hair has often been a means of expressing our adherence to a fashion trend, a conviction, or a protest. At the same time, our hair style invokes much deeper meanings, such as femininity, virility, or even negligence.
Wella Company is indeed the perfect partner in this endeavor, given its long history in the beauty industry. Today it is one of the fastest-growing professional and retail hair, nail and beauty tech companies in the world. As such, the 600 works presented include some of Wella Company’s preeminent contributions across products, services and tools.
But if you can’t get to Paris, here is a brief overview!
‘Des Cheveux et des Poils’ opens with the study of the evolution of feminine hairstyles, a real social indicator and marker of identity. We can see how the modesty of veils shielded women from hair vanity until the 15th Century in the western world. Gradually, they abandoned it in favor of extravagant hairstyles that were constantly renewed. In the 17th century, the hairstyle “to the Hurluberlu” (dear to Madame de Sévigné) and “to the Fontange” (after the name of Louis XIV’s mistress) are emblematic of real fashion phenomena.
Around 1770, the high hairstyles known as Poufs were undoubtedly the most extraordinary of Western fashion. They were also emblematic of women’s hairstyles as social power. Finally, in the 19th century, women’s hairstyles − whether inspired by ancient Greece, or known as “the giraffe,” in curls, or “the Pompadour” − were just as convoluted. A variant of the latter became popular even with men in the mid-20th century. Just think Elvis Presley and James Dean!
The evolution of ‘manscaping’
‘Des Cheveux et des Poils’ also covers the evolution of the hairier of the human species: men. During the Middle Ages, hairless faces were in vogue. A turning point occurred around 1520, when the beard, a symbol of courage and strength, appeared. Indeed, three great Western monarchs: Francis I, Henry VIII, and Charles V were young and wore beards. The beard then became associated with the virile and warrior spirit. From the 1630s until the end of the 18th century, the hairless face and the wig were the hallmarks of courtiers.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that men once again began sporting mustaches, sideburns, and beards. This century was by far the hairiest in the history of men’s fashion. The maintenance of hairiness among these young urbanites gave rise to the profession of barber, which had disappeared since the 1950s.
Strangely enough, hairiness is rare, or even absent from ancient painting. The hairless body is synonymous with the
antique and idealized body, while the hairy body is associated with virility, or even triviality. Only enthusiasts of virile sports such as boxing and rugby, as well as erotic illustrations or medical engravings, show individuals covered in hair.
Intimacy, hairpieces and colors
Hair styling is considered an intimate act in many cultures. Moreover, a well-born lady could not show herself in public with her hair down. A painting by Franz-Xaver Winterhalter, dated 1864, depicting Empress Sissi in a robe and with her hair untied, was strictly reserved for Franz Joseph’s private cabinet. There is even one school of thought that claimed married women felt more comfortable going to a gay male hairdresser. In this way, their husbands would not get upset about a man touching their wives!
Louis XIV, who became bald at a very young age, adopted the so-called “bright hair” wig. He then imposed this fashion on the court. In the 20th century, Andy Warhol had the same misfortune: the wig he wore to hide his baldness became an icon of the artist. Nowadays, hairpieces and wigs are common in high fashion, during fashion shows or, of course, to compensate for hair loss.
The natural hair colors and their symbolism are studied along with what they convey. Blonde is said to be the color of women and childhood. Red hair is attributed to sultry women, witches and some famous stage women. As for black hair,
it would betray the temperament of brown and brunettes. From the experimental colorations of the 19th century to the more certain dyes from the 1920s: artificial colors are not forgotten. ‘Des Cheveux et des Poils’, to this view, presents the work of the hairdresser Alexis Ferrer who makes digital prints on real hair.