Being a hopeless romantic, I love stories and movies about the Marie Antoinette period in history. Not only because they lived in castles and dined at candlelight, but also because (the rich) people were beautifully overdressed and overcoiffed. Reading a lot about those days and their habits, rudely disturb my dream of life during those days…. To write a post about the famous hairdo’s, I had to dig into the way these hairdo’s were made and stayed well for days or weeks..
The specific hairdo I love is called ‘Á la Belle Poule’, which means an exact replica of a ship called Belle Poule was placed on top of an already ridiculously high hairdo. It was designed by Léon-Michel Guignace, as a tribute to the victory of this French ship over an English ship.
To create this hairstyle, a woman’s long hair was pulled up over a frame or a bundle of horsehair and topped of with the replica of Belle Poule. Other toppings were flowers, birds, houses or whatever was in fashion. To keep the hairdo in shape, it was necessary to use large amounts of hair pomade, made of beef fat (!!) and then covered with powder, usually from wheat or white rice, sometimes scented and dyed blue, pink or violet.
You can imagine what was happening inside these masses of hair, beef fat and flour, which of course couldn’t be washed and cleaned. Lice and other little insects had a ball in there. The men, who were also wearing large wigs, shaved their heads and could take of the wigs, which were than often cleaned by baking them in the oven! But the women preserved their hairdo’s for months and were therefore hosts for lots of lice and other pesticides. At diner tables often long-handled silver claws were laid out with the silverware, so guests could scratch the itches inside their coiffure!
But this was not the biggest problem of the French court… In those days there was a huge shortage of food and peasants could barely afford a loaf of bread, while at court, the hairdo’s of nobleman and women were dusted by servants with enormous quantities of flour. The poor, already angry about the extravagant lifestyle of the wealthy, finely exploded with anger about the waste of perfectly good food and started the French Revolution (1789-99).
Beautiful and inspiring movies about this period are Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola and Madame Pompadour, The Kings Favourite, but the best is Il Casanova by Federico Fellini. In this movie the costumes are even more lavishing and over the top, with fantastic details!
A few years ago, I was asked to do hair and make-up by a photo shoot for ELLE. The theme was Sailor Girl and for the portrait I painted a little wooden ship white and attached a white ribbon. My interpretation of á la belle poule….
Last year, the photographer got an email from a design academy student, who summoned her to take the portret of the girl with the boat on her hair of the internet, because she had stolen the idea from this student, who also made a photograph of a girl with a boat on her hair…!? The student claimed the idea and therefore had the right to tell the photographer to remove her picture…. Sweety, our picture was taken years before and the only person to claim the idea is Léon-Michel Guignace, who is long gone and buried!