Personal Reflections: My take on Marie Antoinette is that she was rather attractive and lively. Though naturally thoughtless, she was a kind-hearted woman and her intentions were good. Indeed, she detested the etiquette of the rigid court, but she was also perhaps too ostentatious in her taste for privacy which only alienated her from the courtiers of Versailles, allies dearly missed in troubling times
Fifteen years before the arrival of the new dauphine of France, on the 2nd of November 1770, the city of Lisbon woke to a devastating earthquake, in which some thirty thousand lives perished. On the very same day, All Souls’ Day, far from the terrible disaster, Marie Antoinette was born in the gay city of Vienna. The pretty, strawberry-blond daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa
Author Will BASHOR will be on Tour February 3-12, 2014 with his Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution [history/nonfiction] Release date: October 16, 2013 (anniversary of Marie Antoinette’s execution) at Lyons Press 320 pages ISBN-10: 0762791535 ISBN-13: 978-0762791538 Hardcover, 320 pages Color Insert: 16 pages Award: 2013 Adele Mellen Prize For Distinguished Scholarship Author’s page | Goodreads *** If you would LOVE to read this history
Truly honored to be among the books reviewed by Library Journal. http://t.co/BIWyDdCYyh Library Journal Review: Verdict When Leonard Autie arrived in Paris during the summer of 1769, he brought with him a bundle of self-confidence and his “magic comb.” Determined to make his fortune as a hairdresser, Autie quickly found patrons among Parisian actresses and in the court of
To address the question of Leonard’s possible “apocryphal” memoirs, I would like to provide the preceding notes to my book which explain the memoir’s importance, and its limitations, for “Marie Antoinette’s Head.” A NOTE ON SOURCES Exaggeration and hyperbole always pose problems when constructing a biography, especially one that relies on centuries-old memoirs, letters, and secondhand accounts of events. Even government documents can be misleading
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HOW TO BECOME MARIE ANTOINETTE’S HAIRDRESSER
Leonard Autie, hairdresser to Marie Antoinette, would have been trained in the art of hairdressing in southern France in the mid 1760’s. It is documented that he practiced his craft in Montpellier and Bordeaux, but his creative genius was unable to win over the matronly bourgeois ladies of these provincial cities. To find his fame and fortune, the young coiffeur then journeyed to Paris on foot, arriving in 1769 with nothing but a tortoise shell comb in his pocket and a “big bundle of vanity.”
The question arises, if hairdressing was highly regulated by the Parisian guild, what was Leonard’s competitive advantage over the master hairdressers of the capital city at the time. To answer this, we begin with the theory behind l’art de coiffure.
According to the manuals of the guild, hairdressers first learned that cutting hair was the science of giving natural hair its form by removing irregularities in length and cropping in stages, all the while enhancing the face—the true art of the hairdresser.[i] Therefore, to practice hairdressing the coiffeur would first cut the hair according to the client’s features and then finish by curling and powdering.
Cutting the Hair
The professional (male) coiffeur would start by combing the entire head of hair thoroughly to remove any tangles. Then using his wood, tortoise shell or gold comb (Fig. 1), he would begin at the top of the head and comb one portion or row of hair at a time, combing gently straight down or to the side, depending on whether the hair was to be cut straight or angled. When the comb was near the end of the hair, the hair was cut underneath the comb with half-closed scissors (Fig 2). Cutting the hair to the desired length was continued with the rest of the hair, but the top rows of hair were required to be shorter than the lower rows.
(Note: When styling a wig, one would follow the same rules that govern natural hair. Care had to be taken not to cut the wig too short so that it could completely cover all the natural hair below. Also, it was necessary to cut the hair underneath the wig to avoid any unpleasant thickness or bumpiness. Since there were no precise rules for wigs, the coiffeur relied on his best judgment when styling them.)
Curling the Hair
After the hair was properly cut, one ordinarily wrapped the hair in curling papers, heated the packets with curling arms, and finished with powder. However, this process required special instruments and materials which were used in a certain order and manner.
First, small pieces of paper were cut into small triangles, preferably using gray paper or blotting paper because they tear easily. Gathering a small portion of the hair with the comb and holding it with the first two fingers of one hand around the middle, the coiffeur would then roll the hair in a curl and immediately envelope it with the curling paper. This was the loop curl (Fig. 3).
Another type of curl was the crepe (Fig. 4), which was preferable for short hair on the top of the head. The crepe was created by taking the strand of hair and twisting it in the curling paper to avoid the hole found in the middle of the loop curl.
Once the whole head was covered with rolling papers, it was time to use the curling irons. The coiffeur used two kinds of curling irons. One was a clip with two flat jaws of equal thickness (Fig. 5), and the other resembled scissors (Fig. 6). The irons were heated in the fire, not on the coals. The desired temperature was achieved if the iron did not scorch a curling paper or by testing the heat near the cheek. When ready, the curling papers with hair were heated by the iron for a few moments. Another iron would be heated while curling since the irons did not hold their heat too long.[ii] With a full head of curling papers, it was necessary to heat several irons.
Once the curling papers were all cooled, they were removed and all the locks of curled hair were then combed together. Then the coiffeur would ordinarily gracefully arrange the curls around the forehead and the temples. If needed, the curling iron resembling scissors was used to reinforce any unwieldy curls.
If the hair appeared too thick in places, it was necessary to thin it by holding several strands of hair with the fingers and cutting them near the roots with the slightly-opened scissors. This would give a light and pleasing appearance to the curly hair. For hair that appeared too unwieldy, strong pomade, the best being beechnut wax, was mixed with a touch of powder, melted in the hands, and applied to the roots of the hair to give it consistency.
Powdering the Hair
Once the curls were arranged to satisfaction, the only task left was to powder the hair. The best powder for the hair was made of wheat flour and was kept in an iron cup or sheepskin pouch (Figs. 7 and 8).
The best puffs used to powder hair were made with long bristles from the top of the heads of geese (Fig. 9). To powder, the coiffeur coated his hands with pomade and lightly waxed the curls. Then he lightly dipped his puff in the powder; this small quantity was sufficient for dusting the hair and highlighting the cut and curls.
For fear that the clients would get powder on their face and in their eyes, the coiffeur took the precaution of protecting them with a mask (Fig. 10).
Leonard, the revered hairdresser of Marie Antoinette, did read these manuals and did practice the prescribed art de coiffeur like any other hairdresser in Paris, but he went a step further to take the art to the extreme. By adding yards of gauze, flowers, and heron feathers and by creating scaffolds of wire to raise the towering hairdos with horsehair, Leonard created magic that captivated the queen of Versailles and all of Europe.
[i] Garsault, François de. Art Du Perruquier, Contenant La Façon De La Barbe; la Coupe des Cheveux; la Construction des Perruques d’Hommes & de Femmes; le Perruquier en vieux; & le Baigneur-Etuviste. Paris: Saillant & Nyon, 1757.
[ii] Villermont, Marie comtesse de. Histoire de la coiffure feminine. Paris: Henri Laurens, 1892.
Images are in the public domain because their copyrights have expired. This applies also applies to countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years. http://chateauversailles-recherche.fr/
Then there’s “Marie Antoinette’s Head; The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution.” I bought this book at Crawford Doyle a couple of weeks ago because I am a long time 18th Century French fan/freak/aficionado, whatever you want to call. More…
Revolution (“Marie Antoinette’s Head” by Will Bashor) by Adam 1/12/2014
As someone who is predisposed to hating hair as the focus of any scholarship, simply because I myself am genetically predisposed to having very little of it within the next few years, reading a book not only about hair but the most famous dresser of hair in history seemed like an interesting challenge. After all, Will Bashor has written 250 pages almost entirely about the relationship between Marie Antoinette and her hairdresser, a long-forgotten Frenchman by the name of Leonard Autie; the next challenge–the obvious challenge–would be to see how long a reader not especially interested in hair or its history would be willing to go before giving up.
Thankfully–surprisingly–Bashor’s book reads less like archaic history and more like a Harlequin romance novel with academic citations. The historical figures featured in its pages are brash, haughty, vicious, pitiful, jealous, and sexually unquenchable. The circle of attendants who looked after Marie Antoinette was populated by what we’d today refer to as drama queens, ass-kissers, and backstabbers; more often than not, they saw their position in the palace in terms of their own futures, and any outsiders were a threat to their standing in the realm of wealth and power. Marie Antoinette herself is presented as a impulsive teenage girl who spurns queenly etiquette in favor of romping with young children, riding horses, and seducing her attractive and similarly-aged brother-in-law. (Though Bashor goes to great lengths to present this information only as it was recorded–that is, with great vagueness and couchings–the suggestions are clear.) more…
Review at Bas Bleu: What a fascinating story!
On the morning of her execution, Marie Antoinette’s long hair was cut short to bare her neck for the guillotine’s blade. It was a humiliating moment for a woman whose extravagant, towering hairstyles were her hallmark—and a visible symbol of the excesses that cost her her life. This intriguing narrative reveals the man behind the coiffeur, Léonard Autié, a provincial hairdresser who arrived in Paris with only the clothes on his back and leveraged his skill and charisma to build a client base among the créme de la créme of Parisian society. But his greatest triumph would be found in the halls of Versailles, where he transformed Louis XVI’s Austrian-born queen into France’s most influential trendsetter—and himself into her greatest confidant. What a fascinating story! (KG)
“An entertaining, well-researched work that will particularly interest students of cultural history and the French Revolution.
KIRKUS STAR REVIEW
Awarded to Books of Exceptional Merit
A scholarly debut biography that looks at the French Revolution through the eyes of the queen’s hairdresser and confidant.
When Léonard Autié first arrived as a young man in Paris in 1769, he was so short on money that he walked the last 120 miles on foot. His possessions consisted of little more than a few coins, a tortoiseshell comb and “an ample supply of confidence.” Ten years later, after he created the famous “pouf” hairstyle, he was the hairdresser to the queen of France. A decade after that, during the Revolution, Autié “took on the dangerous role of messenger and secret liaison between the royal family and their supporters.” Later, forced into exile and financially ruined, he spent a lengthy sojourn in Russia, where he worked as hairdresser to the nobility (and even arranged the hair of Czar Paul I’s corpse). He was eventually allowed to return to Paris in 1814, and he died there six years later. Bashor draws on contemporary accounts and letters and particularly Autié’s ghostwritten memoir, purportedly based on his journals and published 18 years after his death. The author notes that the latter source’s dialogue is unverifiable (although he cross-checks it with contemporary sources whenever possible) and that Autié was given to boasting and exaggeration. Fortunately, however, Bashor liberally quotes from the Souvenirs de Léonard, giving his own account a gossipy, entertaining directness, similar to a historical novel. (He also includes a bibliography, endnotes and an index.) Autié’s perspective highlights just how out of touch and frivolous the aristocrats were; for example, when he brings news to Versailles of the fall of the Bastille, he finds the court ladies “oblivious” and “clamoring for his services.” Bashor doesn’t clearly explain the specifics of hair powdering and wig making or how Autié arranged his fantastic poufs (although he does include illustrations), but his depiction of Autié’s fascinating fly-on-the-wall role as confidant to doomed royalty makes up for it. Overall, he delivers an informative examination of a little-known player on a great stage.
An entertaining, well-researched work that will particularly interest students of cultural history and the French Revolution.
To address the question of Leonard’s possible “apocryphal” memoirs, I would like to provide the preceding notes to my book which explain the memoir’s importance, and its limitations, for “Marie Antoinette’s Head.”
A NOTE ON SOURCES
Exaggeration and hyperbole always pose problems when constructing a biography, especially one that relies on centuries-old memoirs, letters, and secondhand accounts of events. Even government documents can be misleading when they are written in the midst of the type of regime and social change that took place during and after the French Revolution.
The literature on the Revolution is vast, but that which focuses on Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Léonard Autié, is somewhat limited. The amazing hairstyles were a big story in their day, with extensive coverage in the press, but little was written about the man behind these creations. Fortunately, Baron Lamothe-Langon published Léonard’s memoirs, “Souvenirs de Léonard, coiffeur de la reine Marie Antoinette,” eighteen years after his death in 1838. The ghostwriter purported that he used Léonard’s journals and notes to achieve the two-volume work, but his critics claimed that it was apocryphal, embellishing the hairdresser’s role in history.
Nevertheless, I relied heavily on Souvenirs de Léonard, using its timeline and cast of characters. But, keeping its critics in mind, I also extensively consulted the court memoirs and letters of Léonard’s contemporaries to investigate any doubtful claims and resolve any conflicts. Any discrepancies are duly noted in this biography. Unless otherwise noted in the endnotes, the dialogue retrieved from the Souvenirs de Léonard is unverifiable because the work itself has been deemed unreliable in its original form. However, all dialogue has been transcribed verbatim from original sources, and dialogue from any French sources has been diligently translated into English. All references have been cited with endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography.
Since 1838, only Louis Péricaud and Gustave Bord have revisited Léonard’s story in any detail, focusing on his theater venture and his role in the royal family’s affairs, respectively in 1908 and 1909. Although this book addresses the famous hairdresser’s life and is not intended to be a reference in French history, it does shed light on the trials and tribulations of the last Queen of France from another angle—that of her confidant and coveted hairdresser.