Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Léonard is an impertinent scamp." - Madame L. upon witnessing the debut of the Pouf at the Opera


Ever wonder how the invention of the pouf came about?  Here's the scoop, straight from the pen of the master himself.  

Setting the scene:  Planning to meet the prince royal of Sweden and his brother at the opera Pyrame et Thisbé, Marie Antoinette sends a groom to the home of her hairdresser, Léonard, where he is drinking with his companion, Frémont.  

The groom announces, "Madame la Dauphine requests the presence of M. Léonard at once.  Her Royal Highness goes to the opera this evening."  

Later, Léonard writes, in his entertaining, but probably not reliable, memoirs:  

"A thunderbolt falling between Frémont and me could not have caused me a fright, a stupefaction, comparable to the one I experienced on receiving an unexpected order from the Dauphine.   A state head-dress, an opera box head-dress, in the condition in which I was… it was enough to upset the strongest Gascon fearlessness.  I was what is termed tipsy, that is to say beyond that beginning of inebriation which, far from hindering the faculties, develops and lends them something like poetical inspiration…"  After gulping three cups of coffee, he was "able to see the objects about me in their natural forms…", he rushed to this "perilous adventure".  "I entered the Dauphine's apartment with assurance:  a tipsy man never lacks that."    For the occasion, Marie Antoinette tells him, or so he claims,  " You must draw on all the faculties of your imagination today.  You must undertake a transcendental head-dress;  I'm to wear a state gown."   Marie Antoinette is thrilled with his "delightfully bold" creation of curls, white plumes, pink ribbon, a large rosette formed of hair and a pink bow with a large ruby in the middle and he assures her that the women of Versailles and Paris will clamor to have even taller arrangements the next night.  As he expected, people trampled each other at the opera, with "three arms dislocated, two ribs fractured, three feet sprained" in the process, competing to get a glimpse of his "audacious masterpiece."   Heady (seems like an apt choice of words) with the sensation created by his wine-induced ingenuity, he rushed home to Frémont the next day and told him that the 72 inch pyramidal head-dress will make them millionaires within two years:  "Run to your post Frémont;  do not lose a moment;  fortune calls you;  answer:  'Here I am!"  

Léonard's memoirs are gossipy and usually he places himself in the middle of scenes from which etiquette would've surely prevented his entry.  He comes across as the flighty, high-strung, dramatic hairdresser stereotyped in this century. Charming in his way.  Either he was fundamentally trustworthy or Marie Antoinette was especially devoted to her hairdresser, because it was he who carried her jewels in the attempted flight from Paris that ended in Varennes.  I really think he was included, because she, at that point in their trials, was still concerned enough with her regal image that she wanted her hair done perfectly when the hoped-for escape succeeded. .  There are questions about the whereabouts of the jewels he carried.  At least a portion ended up in the hands of the Austrians, but some may have disappeared and there are those that believe Léonard's creativity may have extended to finding ways to make off with a bauble or two.  Just an impression I've gathered from books I've read, but I haven't really focused on figuring out what happened or, rather, what historians believe happened.  I don't mean to start a rumor about Léonard!  That rumor stuff can spread like wildfire, you know!

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