This Exhibition Cares For Hair Like No Other: Des Cheveux et des Poils

Focusing on hair's historical and sociocultural evolution from the Middle Ages to the present, the exceptionally profound exhibition can be visited at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris until September 17.

May 30, 2023

Do you think your hair color, haircut, or facial hair reflects your character and culture? On April 5th, Des cheveux et des poils (Hair and hairs) opened its doors at Louvre’s precious neighbor Musée des Arts Décoratifs, exploring this subject from the Middle Ages to the present. With over 600 works, the wonderfully specific show digs into the history of hair in the West concerning mainstream and eccentric social and cultural codes. Des Cheveux et des Poils is the brainchild of Denis Bruna, who is also the museum’s chief curator. Focusing on the iconography of the body between the 14th and 16th centuries, historian Bruna’s expertise in the field has equipped him with a fresh perspective on covering fashion and beauty. After curating La Mécanique des Dessous (The Mechanics of Underwear), exposing the relationship between corsets, belts, and various undergarments and sociological and ethical values, the accomplished curator stressed an appetite to take his work one step further to create a narrative around hair and body. “Hair and body hair are canvases of transformation. We can let them grow or hide, dye, shave, and wax them. […] I wanted to show that hair and body hair are essential elements for constructing appearances and manifesting ourselves as individuals.”

The exhibition features a comprehensive and rare set of examples dating from medieval European bridal veils and women wearing fashionable headpieces and carrying on to contemporary hairstyles. It also addresses quite specific topics in the realm of hair, including the perception of blonde and red hair, the political and cultural implications of women’s genital hair, the rise of razors, satires on baldness throughout history, the transformation of beard and mustache as a status symbol, the gifting of hair as a souvenir in the 19th century, the unique world of antique combs (I honestly couldn’t find a sensible reason why these sublime combs don’t exist anymore), the context behind floral hair adornments, the sociocultural statement of wigs, and the history of coiffures. My tips for those considering delving into the world of Des Cheveux et des Poils are as follows: Spare at least one and a half hours of your time, clear some space in your phone’s memory for the priceless artifacts that you’ll wish to remember forever, make sure to stop by the gift shop, and be prepared to be surprised — in a good way.

Des Cheveux et des Poils can be visited at Musée des Arts Décoratifs until September 17.