Des Cheveux et des Poils opens in the Louvre in Paris
Though containing very little fashion, there are few more fashionable exhibitions on view today than Des Cheveux et des Poils, an investigation into the rapport between hair and style from Ancient Egypt to contemporary couture.
Translated into Hair & Hairs in English, the exhibition opens Wednesday in the Museum of Decorative Arts (MAD) of the Louvre, stretching from the banks of the Nile to contemporary hairstylist stars like Sam McKnight, Shinji Konishi, Alexandre de Paris and Charlie Le Mindu.
This long treatise on locks, which took three years to prepare, includes 677 exhibits, spread over two floors and 1,200 square-meters, and includes wigs or clothing made of hair seen in shows by Alexander McQueen, Maison Margiela, Vivienne Westwood and Victor Weinsanto.
Capillary cool has existed from the Ancient World when pharaohs and their wives wore wigs. In imperial Rome, women favored extremely complicated and intricate hairstyles. While in Western Europe women actually wore veils in public for many centuries, following the instruction of St Paul to hide their hair. An oil painting of George de la Tour of St Paul is accompanied by the apostle's strictures on modesty.
“But after the 16th century women in society finally began to show off their hair, and we see how hair finally became fashionable. And, just like hemlines and silhouettes, hair rose and fell,” stressed Denis Bruna, the curator of the exhibition.
That said, as late as the late 19th century, Franz-Xaver Winterhalter’s oil of the Empress Sissi showing her with cascades of hair was strictly reserved for the private cabinet of her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph.
Inevitably, in matters of style France plays a huge role, starting back in 1301, when French barber-surgeons published the first by-laws of their profession. All the way to post-war France, and the birth of the Union of Haute Coiffure Française, leading to the creation of remarkably sculptured animal wigs. And eventually all the way to Konishi’s witty exhibit – a red setter wig for Lady Gaga.
Hair & Hairs is technically the fourth installment of an ongoing study of the relationship between the body and fashion, which began back in 2013, with shows dealing with underwear, formal attire and footwear, respectively.
“Head and body hairs are extraordinarily convertible materials. You can let them grow, cut, dye, curl and then make them disappear,” argued Bruna.
By 1720, French women were gradually piling their hair high, even as their dresses became more décolleté. By the mid-century, the vogue was for towering bouffant hair laced in ribbons, but by 1800, the first portraits appeared of women with cropped hair.
An entire industry had already sprouted to create elaborate hairpins, seen in a marvelous painting of Elisabeth 1, her red tresses piled high with horn pins. Even if hair was generally associated with a certain prudery. Greek statues showed women devoid of pubic hair. And until Gustave Courbet’s full-frontal Origin of the World, women’s nether regions were never shown in fine art.
Hair & Hairs is also an opportunity to witness some little seen yet stupendous portraits by less noted artists - oils of the great and the good by the likes of Jean or François Clouet, Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, Joos Van Cleve or François Jouvenet.
After centuries of men shaving scrupulously, by the 16th century kings wanted to show off their virility by sporting beards, seen in two brilliant paintings of the great bearded noble rivals François I of France and Henry VIII of England.
“Then, wigs became a question of social distinction. A way of distinguishing the rich from common people. One should recall that Louis XIII became extremely sad and depressed by the loss of his own hair in his early youth and began wearing wigs. Then Louis XIV lost his early in his twenties in the war in Flanders and wore wigs the rest of his days,” notes Bruna.
One huge glass contains a huge, braided wig owned by Louis XIV and even a silver and black mop that once donned the head of Andy Warhol. Kings wore wigs generally made of hair culled from young rural women, though Charles II of England had his made of his mistress’ pubic hair. Less fortunate folk wore hair recovered from the dead. Others settled for hair from deer, horses, sheep or even linen. Nowadays, the most expensive wigs come from Eastern Europe.
Curiously, though many people today use it daily, shampoo – from the Hindi word champo, meaning to knead – was only really invented in the late 19th century. To its credit, one of the world’s biggest shampoo producers, Wella is the main sponsor of Hair & Hairs.
By the 20th century, advanced design and technology had entered hair salons, seen in a beautiful table for Jeanne Lanvin, and in a whole series of faintly absurdist retro blow dryers. While great photographers like Richard Avedon began shooting ads for L’Oréal.
All discovered in an exhibition that ends on a political note, and photos from the 2022 protests of an Iranian woman’s hand clutching a thick lock of hair. The erotic potential of hair, a clear threat to the theocratic regime in Teheran.
Hair & Hairs in MAD from April 5 to September 17.
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