Monday, March 4, 2013

Antoine de Paris (1884 - 1976)

Because poets are always happy to implicate others in their lonely & sullen art, they are pleased to award their negligible title to others, so long as those others don't actually compose poetry & in no way pose a threat to the poet's meager livelihood. Therefore, when Jean Cocteau declares Antoine de Paris a poet, we are correct to raise an eyebrow. It doesn't help that Cocteau, being a Frenchman as well as a poet, probably declared his diligent boulanger a poet the same morning & his barman a visionary that afternoon. 

It is probably more accurate to proclaim Antoine, a Pole born Antoni Cierplikowski, as the most celebrated & florid hairdresser & wigmaker of his time, which does not, in any way, disparage the man's contribution to the rarefied Continental circles in which he flourished. Antoine made wigs & developed hairstyles in the same way Swinburne wrote poetry, delighting often in the most grotesque excesses of shape, color, sheen & texture. Needless to say he became a favorite of the Surrealists -- Man Ray, Salvador Dali & Cocteau in particular -- and his work certainly complemented the oneiric fillip the Surrealists managed to inveigle into every early 20th Century art-form & medium. Antoine was the instigator of the scandalous bob (later popularized by Louise Brooks), the chromium curls of Josephine Baker, the blue highlights and schooner-sail coiffure of the European jet-set & literati, and numerous other acts of cultural sabotage that fueled the image we have of the 1920s, the startling pomp of the 20th Century avant-garde & every literate libertine's dreams of living an utterly fabulous life. 

There is something slightly eerie & sinister about Antoine. Perhaps it's that he looks for all the world like a gardenia-scented Conrad Veidt (and, later in his life, like one of the extras in the Whispering Glades scenes of Tony Richardson's The Loved One) & that -- when concentrating on the back of a starlet's head or the postiches on a row of Novita mannequins --there is a cruel set to his mouth more befitting the mad scientist with a calcified soul or a world-weary fin-de-siecle decadent than the glib, catty hairstylists encountered in today's films & television programs. 

Elsa Schiaparelli in a Antoine de Paris wig. Photograph by Man Ray.

The Funeral of Antoni Cierplikowski
The Grave of Antoine de Paris


Anonymous said...

The monument at his grave is simply amazing. It is such a strong statement set in stone and it seems to scream of a deeply considered and thoughtful choosing. The two stretching skyward figures seemingly bounding towards the heavens above us and letting it be known that his life is now complete but that life now gone was joyful and simply sublime. I find it to be beautiful and moving.

Sister Wolf said...