The “Hair and Body Hair” exhibition at the MAD, the fourth part of an exploration of fashion and the representation of the body, delves into the history of hairdressing and the messages it conveys. Breathtaking!
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs presents an exhibition devoted to hair and body hair in the Western world. This exploration of fashion and the representation of the body began with the exhibition The mechanics of the bottom (2013), continued with Correct outfit required ! (2017) then Walking and gait (2019). hair and hairs shows how the hairstyle and the arrangement of human hair have been involved, for centuries, in the construction of appearances.
This abundant exhibition explores through 600 works – portraits, wigs, tools, clothing made of hair or advertising campaigns -, from the 15th century to the present day, the themes inherent in the history of hairdressing as well as questions related to facial hair and bodily. The very historical journey questions what makes the hair, in Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures, an attribute of animals and savagery and explains why it had to be tamed to keep women or men away from beast. The trades and know-how of yesterday and today are highlighted with their emblematic figures and big names in contemporary fashion are present with their spectacular creations made from hair.
1 Discover the fashions and extravagances of yesterday
The first part of the exhibition is frankly historical with the study of the evolution of female hairstyle, social indicator and marker of identity. In the Middle Ages, the wearing of the veil was imposed on women until the 15th century, then, little by little, they abandoned it in favor of extravagant hairstyles constantly renewed. In the 17th century, the hairstyle with “the urluberlu” (dear to Madame de Sévigné) and “at the Fontange” (named after the mistress of Louis XIV) are true fashion phenomena. Around 1770, the so-called high hairstyles “poufs” are arguably the most extraordinary of Western hair fashions. In the 19th century, women’s hairstyles – whether inspired by ancient Greece or called “to the giraffe”twist or “a la Pompadour” – are just as convoluted. Here paintings and sculptures show this phenomenon.
2 Focus on male attributes: beard, mustache and sideburns
After the hairless faces of the Middle Ages, a turning point took place around 1520 with the appearance of the beard, a symbol of courage and strength: at the beginning of the 16th century, three Western monarchs – François Ier, Henry VIII and Charles Quint – wear it. From the 1630s until the end of the 18th century, the beardless face and the wig are back for the courtier. Facial hair did not reappear until the beginning of the 19th century with the mustache, sideburns and beard. A multitude of incredible little objects (mustache clips, brushes, curling iron, wax) testify to this craze which continued in the 20th century, until the return of the beard to the Hipsters at the end of the 1990s. Maintaining hair in these young urbanites has revived the profession of barber, which has disappeared since the 1950s. Nowadays, full beards are giving way to mustaches which had disappeared since the 1970s.
The choice to keep, eliminate, conceal or display hair from other parts of the body is also a subject that the exhibition deals with. Hairiness is rare, even absent in old painting. The hairless body is synonymous with an ancient and idealized body, while the hairy body is associated with virility. Only the followers of virile sports but also the erotic illustrations or the medical engravings show individuals covered with hair. Around 1910-1920, when women’s bodies were discovered, advertisements in magazines extolled the merits of depilatory creams and hair clippers to eliminate them. In 1972, actor Burt Reynolds posed naked, with a hairy body for the magazine Cosmopolitan but fifty years later, the hair is no longer up to date. Since 2001, athletes photographed naked for calendars, such as the one The stadium gods have controlled hairiness.
3 Marvel at extraordinary hairpieces and wigs
Hairdressing is an intimate act, a well-born lady could not show herself in public with her hair down. A painting by Franz-Xaver Winterhalter from 1864, representing the Empress Sissi in a dressing gown and her hair loose, was strictly reserved for the private cabinet of François-Joseph. Louis XIV, who became bald at a very young age, adopted the so-called “lively hair” which he imposes on the court. In the 20th century, Andy Warhol experienced the same misadventure: the wig he wore to hide his baldness would become an icon of the artist.
Nowadays, hairpieces and wigs are used in haute couture during fashion shows or to compensate for hair loss. Some presented here are extraordinarily creative.
The natural colors of the hair and their symbolism are studied with what they convey. Blonde is the color of women and childhood. The red is attributed to sulphurous women, witches and famous stage women. As for black hair, they would betray the strong temperament of browns and brunettes. From experimental colorations of the 19th century to dyes from the 1920s: artificial colors are not forgotten. The work of hairdresser Alexis Ferrer who makes digital prints on real hair is presented here.
4 See the evolution of professions and know-how
On the second floor, the trades and know-how of yesterday and today are highlighted with their emblematic figures: yesterday, Léonard Autier (Marie-Antoinette’s favorite hairdresser) and, closer to us, the hairdressers studio. The exhibition reveals the different professions related to hair: barbers, barber-surgeons, wig makers, ladies’ hairdressers. Archive documents and objects – signs, tools, products – as well as the astonishing perm machines and dryers from the 1920s are to be discovered.
In 1945, the creation of haute coiffure elevated the profession to the rank of an artistic discipline and French know-how. The 20th century hairstyle is marked by Guillaume, Antoine, Rosy and Maria Carita, Alexandre de Paris styling princesses and celebrities. Nowadays, hairstyles are expressed during fashion house shows: Sam McKnight, Nicolas Jurnjack or Charlie Le Mindu create extraordinary hairstyles for top models and show business personalities.
5 Hair in contemporary fashion
This section allows you to evoke the iconic hairstyles of the 20th and 21st centuries: the 1900 bun, the boyish cut of the 1920s, the permed and notched hair of the 1930s, the sauerkraut of the 1960s, the long hair of the 1970s, the voluminous hairstyles of the 1980s, the layers and the blond locks of the 1990s, without forgetting the nappy hair (natural afro hair). Their arrangement in a particular form can reveal belonging to a group and manifest a political, cultural expression in opposition to society and the established order. More ideological than aesthetic, the Iroquois crest of the punks, the neglected hair of the grunges or the shaved heads of the skinheads are strong moments of hair creativity.
Finally, some designers choose to transcend the hair material into a fashion object. The exhibition ends with these great names in contemporary fashion – Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Josephus Thimister and Jeanne Vicerial – present here with their spectacular creations made from hair. For these contemporary creators, the question of identity is often at the heart of their thinking. Breathtaking !
Exposure hair and hairs until September 17, 2023. Museum of Decorative Arts. 107 Rivoli Street. 75001 Paris. Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.