Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolutionby Will Bashor
Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen's reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such
Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen's reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such tremendous influence over the queen's affairs? Winner of the Adele Mellen Prize for Distinguished Scholarship, Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution charts the rise of Leonard Autie from humble origins as a country barber in the south of France to the inventor of the Pouf and premier hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette. By unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, including memoirs (including Léonard's own), court documents, and archived periodicals the author, French History professor and expert Will Bashor, tells Autie's mostly unknown story. Bashor chronicles Leonard's story, the role he played in the life of his most famous client, and the chaotic and history-making world in which he rose to prominence. Besides his proximity to the queen, Leonard also had a most fascinating life filled with sex (he was the only man in a female dominated court), seduction, intrigue, espionage, theft, exile, treason, and possibly, execution.
When Léonard Autié 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, Autié quickly found patrons among Parisian actresses and in the court of Louis XV. It was Autié who created "le pouf," those massive and frivolous concoctions that towered above the foreheads of the privileged elite and contained ribbons, feathers, flowers, jewels, and, ultimately, even a model ship sailing on a sea of hair. Eventually, he became the stylist and confidant of the young Austrian dauphine, Marie Antoinette. As an intimate of the Versailles court, Autié was a witness to, and possibly a participant in, the chaos leading up to the execution of his most famous client. Based primarily on a two-volume memoir published after the hairdresser's death in 1820, this entertaining read by Bashor (global issues, Franklin Univ.) dramatizes (there's invented dialog) a fascinating period of French history. Enhanced by numerous archival images and supplementary materials, the book captures details of an extraordinary time and place. VERDICT An engaging, albeit embellished, narrative of a celebrity hairstylist, circa 1789. Biography buffs and lovers of historical fiction will enjoy this work, but it's not for specialists.—Linda Frederiksen, Washington State Univ. Lib., Vancouver
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.
- Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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- First Edition
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- 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Meet the Author
Will Bashor has a B.A. degree in French and an M.A. degree in French literature from Ohio University and a Ph.D. in International Studies from the American Graduate School in Paris where he gathered letters, newspapers, journals, and plays during his research for Marie Antoinette's Head. Professor at Franklin University and a member of the Society for French Historical Studies, he attended the annual meeting at Harvard University in 2013 where he presented the political importance of Leonard Autie's role in the royal family's unsuccessful flight to Varennes. Visit him at www.willbashor.com.
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There is something so intriguing and familiar about your trusted hairdresser, and believe it or not, Marie Antoinette had the same relationship with the flamboyant and talented Leonard Autie. This book is steeped in historical fact, it should read like a biography with footnotes, but it is so cleverly phrased and written that it reads much like an historical fiction. Autie is outré and talented, a provincial background with parents who served as servants to the minor gentry in his hometown. Brazen and arrogant, the demeanor would have not worked had he not been so talented and determined to dress the finest heads in the land, he would have remained an obscure footnote in history. Yet his talent and connections brought him to the theatre to dress a lesser-known and lesser-talented actress, the change he wrought brought her instant attention, and raised his status. Any lesser ego would have been daunted on introduction to Marie Antoinette: instead he crafted hairstyles so elaborate they demanded attention, and the wearer was instantly the talk of the town. From dressing the ladies of the court, to styling the queen, Autie managed to be in the center of the gossip throughout the court: a self-preservation instinct honed to a fine point, he manages to avoid the appearance of ‘spreading’ rumor while gathering and sharing the information drops from the lips of those in his chair. There is a curious selective eyesight of the privileged of the day; whether it comes from the familiarity with being served, or seeing those who are catering to your every whim as invisible and less than worthy of regard: servants are invisible: see everything, hear everything and barely given a second thought. While Autie could have been left unnoticed in the volumes of information he provides an engaging and captivating player in the events: from his close relationship as friend and advisor to the often petulant and difficult Marie, to his willingness to spy and gather information for the royal family before their demise, to his own great risk. Will Bashor took, what could have been a fairly dry, scholarly account of the events, and managed to bring a lightness and sense of Autie’s voice and demeanor to the story, making this history read a great entrée into the genre. Thoroughly researched and including illustrations of the hairstyles; some decorated with candles, jewels and birds. While my neck ached looking at the elaborate coiffures, the illustrations also reminded me of the over-decorated, gilt-laden furnishings that were created in the same era. I received a hardcover copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review with France Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
The eighteenth-century French court’s rococo hairstyles—if such a word can even be applied to the elaborate confections—are the stuff of legend. Will Bashor’s Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution certainly gives you plenty of bang for your buck in that regard: thirty-pound wigs, mouse-infested coiffures, and the occasional miniature naval battle all make appearances. But it is also a scholarly history not merely of the vagaries and politics of Versailles court fashion, but the rise and fall of Léonard Autié, a man of modest background who rose to become hairdresser to the queen, and whose fortunes were inexplicably tied to that of the doomed monarchy. —S.O.S.
Many people I know are familiar with Marie Antoinette’s crazy hairdos. But for the life of me, I never ever had thought of wondering whose creation it was. I am sure glad Will Bashor had the idea one day of asking himself this question –see further his fascinating answer about this in the interview. So this book is about Marie Antoinette’s super talented hairdresser, Léonard Autié. Though he started rather low in life, he had an enlarged ego, and managed to do really well for himself, thanks to his talents, but also it seems for being almost always at the right place at the right time. I was struck by this when he arrived from Bordeaux to work in Paris, how he met so quickly very instrumental events and people for his success; and how he met again some of these same people later in life, in different contexts and even countries! Will Bashor used Léonard’s own diary and other documents of the time to retrace his evolution in life, and how he came to be Marie Anoitnette’s personal hairdresser for many years, even before she became queen. Full of imagination, he comes up with the idea to make her a foot high hairpiece one day when she plans to go to the opera. Of course everyone notices, who could not!, asks who did it, and every lady around wants the same. He repeated his feat many times, introducing all kinds of variations, some related to historical events (the French have won a naval victory? let’s put then a boat on top of that hair!). Léonard was not the type of feeling stuck. After Marie Antoinette gave birth to her second child, she started losing some of her hair. Not too good for a hairdresser of his style. And so he decided to change the fashion overnight by introducing now short hairdos! But there is more to this book than just hair, as the hairdresser was “a man of intimacy”. Not a noble himself, and without any real political agenda, Léonard was a man the queen could trust and speak to confidently. As such, he is a great witness of key periods of French history. Daily at court, he was in the know of what was going on and upcoming, and was smart enough to prepare for possible dangers. We also see a man torn between his republican ideas of equality for the poor and his loyalty to his masters who had treated him so well, and on whom he was dependent for his livelihood. So when Marie Antoinette asks him to do some spying on the side, he agrees, also when he is sent as secret messenger to try to prepare their escape from Versailles… Reading Marie Antoinette’s Head is a fascinating way of reliving these major pages of European history. Will Bashor also debunks the legend that Léonard was killed at the French Revolution and somehow managed to reappear somewhere else. I will let you read the explanation. I learned many more fascinating things in this book (for instance another connection between Marie Antoinette, hair and flour!), and took many notes, but there’s no room here for them all. To sum up, this is a very serious scholarly work that has the advantage of reading like a historical novel. I know some of you feel like they should read more nonfiction, but you feel intimidated. This book would be perfect for you, if you like historical matters. The style is very lively, entertaining sometimes, and all based on serious study. It was really a pleasure following the opportunist and talented Léonard, as he maneuvers his way in and out of the important historical panorama of the French Revolution and its subsequent years.
"Entertaining . . . [T]he book captures details of an extraordinary time and place. An engaging, albeit embellished, narrative of a celebrity hairstylist, circa 1789. Biography buffs and lovers of historical fiction will enjoy this work..." - Library Journal
This is the story of Marie Antoinette's personal hairdresser and the French Revolution from his unique perspective. Leonard Auntie first walked into Paris with a beautiful shell comb in his pocket and not much else. This comb was his creative tool for bringing to life many magnificent and extravagant coiffures, a gaudy hairstyle the nobility of France went nuts over. As in the cover art, these hairstyles were extremely decorated and lavishly adorned with all types of amazing fabrics and jewels, sparing no expense. He started by decorating the heads of actresses in the theater and, with entrepreneurial spirit and artistic fervor, worked his way into the queen's good graces, enjoying more privileges over time and establishing both a school of hairdressing and also his own successful theater. He ultimately became a spawn for the royal family during the revolution. Sadly, after the revolutionary fires had chilled and he was able to return to France, Leonard was never fully repaid or shown the gratitude he so richly deserved. This is the story of a man with a very resilient spirit, though, who remained loyal and true to the crown until the very end of his life. Exhaustively researched with references to Leonard's own memoirs, beautifully illustrated with breathtaking (and humorous to the modern eye) pictures of Leonard's masterpiece coiffures and with a catchy title that first sparks the reader's imagination, this book adds new perspective to the time of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. I highly recommend it for anyone who finds this colorful time in history interesting and wants to broaden their understanding of the people and the time.