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“O fleece […] O curls! […] Ecstasy!”  

Baudelaire, “La Chevelure”, Les Fleurs du mal. 

Charlie Le Mindu — Coiffure Blonde lips Collection Printemps- Été 2010 dite Girls of paradise Fashion Week au Royal Festival Hall, 19 septembre 2009, Londres
© Samir Hussein / Getty Images

Depicted by so many poets as bewitching (“These hairs, these ties, with which my heart embraces you […] / Hold me so tightly […]”, wrote Ronsard in his Sonnets for Helen in 1578), hair has always been the primary element of feminine adornment. 600 works, from the 15th century to the present day, brought together at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, bear witness to this brilliantly.

Roberto Greco — Sans titre 2021 Prise de vue numérique
© Photo/ Roberto Greco

“There was a time when [the] immense height [of hairstyles] placed a woman’s face in the middle of herself”: Montesquieu, in his Persian Letters (published anonymously in 1721), mocked the “prodigious inconstancy of the French with regard to their fashions,” and in particular the “orders of their hairdressers worn in all the toilettes of Europe,” while Ovid, in his Art of Love, fifteen centuries earlier, marveled at the “infinite number of new finery and fashions that each day sees blossom”: “One charms us with the floating curls of her hair; the other with a flattened hairstyle, tight on the temples. The one likes to adorn her hair with a shiny scale, the other to give hers the wave of the waves…”

Maison Margiela — Prêt-à-porter Printemps 2008/2009
© Giovanni Giannoni

Set against portraits of wigged court ladies and young brides sporting feathers and curls, the extravagant hairstyles sculpted for fashion shows in recent decades hit the spot.

For example, the fantastic braided wig made in 2010 for Marisol Suarez echoes the fabulous scaffolding of false hair and ribbons studded with ornaments favored at the court of Marie Antoinette.

Another nod to these courtly eccentricities, in a neo-surrealist version, is Charles Le Mindu’s Blonde lips hairstyle from Girls of Paradise (Spring/Summer 2010 collection), a gigantic mouth woven with blonde hair, unveiled during Fashion Week at London’s Royal Festival Hall in September 2009.

Closer to home, Alexis Ferrer’s branch, butterfly, and bird print Postiche (La Favorite collection, 2021) recalls the ‘borrowed’ and ‘farded’ hair used since before the Renaissance.

The 2000s marked a break with the introduction of hair (a few millennia after hair…) into clothing, as a material and no longer just an accessory for adornment.

Hair Chakra — Coiffure/ Nicolas Jurnjack 2017
© Photo/ Nick Norman

True to his process of deconstructing fashion conventions, Martin Margiela seized on the wig to turn it into a garment and, using blond hairpieces, formed a silky coat for his autumn-winter 2009-2010 collection. Charles Le Mindu, a hairdresser by training, will also design outfits based on real hair, for which Lady Gaga will be the eccentric ambassador.

After Olivier Theyskens and his jacket embroidered with hair (spring-summer 1999 collection),1 Victor Weinsanto, for his haute couture debut collection in autumn-winter 2021-2022, revisited the classic little black dress by enhancing it with tufts of smooth, shiny hair… While “inspired” hairdressers, such as Nicolas Jurnjack, created genuine works of art using this human fiber. 

See above the exhibition, Man and fashion at the MoMu in Antwerp 

MAD – Musée des Arts décoratifs

107, rue de Rivoli, Paris I

Until 17 September

Stéphanie Dulout