Theadora's fashion plate

Upon my arrival in the decades-old beauty shop on Rue Tronchet there’s a great hush, followed by exchanges of sideways glances. One of the coiffeurs spots me. “Oh, la la,” his lips curl, as he peers down through thick, black-rimmed glasses, one hand firmly on his hairdryer attached at the hip in a leather holster.

Like a big wig, the tension in the room is rising. I had been here only yesterday, requesting some windswept Adele-like pouf and circumstance with golden highlights. However, after I got home, my dull-as-ditchwater red locks looked the same. What’s a girl to do?

Because sometimes two heads are better than one, I had an impromptu tête-à-tête with my collection of historical plates from the flea market. They’ve never failed to inspire – or ignite dinner party conversations. In fact, I’ve been able to find enough monarchs and mistresses for everyone at a table of eight to have their own doppelganger from Versailles.

Sensibly passing over King Louis XIV’s long tresses as well beyond my resources, I spy Françoise-Athénaïs Montespan, waiting not so patiently beneath a slightly chipped Louise de La Vallière. That’s it! Je vais prendre la même chose qu’elle! I’ll have what she’s having.

Flaunting corn-coloured highlights, Madame de Montespan sports the hurlupée hairstyle. This curly do was invented by the recently appointed Versailles Coiffeuse Martin in 1670. It was the original bedhead, giving the illusion of being divinely déshabillée. They didn’t wake up that way… Or did they?

Augustin Challamel reported in his 1882 The History of Fashion in France, “Madame de Montespan wore her hair in numberless curls, one on each side of the temples, falling low on her cheeks. Black ribbons in her hair, pearls which had belonged to the Maréchale de I’Hôpital, and buckles and ear-drops of magnificent diamonds.”

At first, not everyone was an admirer of the short, radical hairstyle. In fact, the Marquise de Sévigné wrote, “I went the other day to see the Duchess of Ventadour; she was as handsome as an angel. The Duchess of Nevers came in, with her head dressed very ridiculously. You may believe me, for you know I am an admirer of fashion. Martin had cropped her to the very extremity of the mode!”

Snarky wit abounded. “I have been extremely diverted with our hurly-burly head-dresses,” chortled the Marquise. “Some of them looked as if you could have blown them off their shoulders!” Days later, however, she changed her tune and not only urged her daughter Françoise-Marguerite to join the “little heads of cabbage” club, but also promised to send her a copycat fashion doll so that she could perfect the new look down to a T. “Hairdresser Martin saved the reputation of the French court,” she concluded.

Fired up by the hurly-burly-do ballyhoo, I secure a second rendezvous, this time with master colourist Gilles. At the bewitching hour, I race down Rue Tronchet and buy chocolates for the staff, along with flowers for the manager, who had managed to squeeze me into a not-so-empty page in the salon’s diary. After presenting my cadeaux, I show Gilles my little “Madame de Montespan” plate, pointing down at my new-old icon. He considers the rendering, I hold my breath. Gently he touches her ringlets before shrugging. “Why not?” he says, and gets to work hand-painting my very own honey-coloured “flashes”.

This time he supernaturally changes me. “Like a halo,” Gilles says. I can almost feel the divine power – if I squint. As the Marquise de Sévigné wrote, “Fortune is always on the side of the largest battalions.” Or beauty teams!

From France Today magazine

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