Buildings in Warsaw rarely bear the mark of history. It can therefore be difficult to tell which famous establishments may have once lined today’s busy streets. Sometimes, however, certain facts add up – only to give mystery and character to an otherwise indistinct location. Though Mazowiecka street is far from typical, knowing this tidbit of historical trivia gives the street a unique sense of otherworldly glamour: No. 12 was the location of the most famous hairdressing salon of the 20th century.
To comprehend the meaning of this statement one must know the story of the man who opened the doors of this famous salon – Antoni Cierplikowski. Today, it’s not unusual for a celebrity to launch a line of clothing or cosmetics. A popular name almost guarantees success. However, there was a time when expertise, experience and, most of all, perfectly timed risk-taking were paramount to establishing a desirable brand. Cierplikowski was the first to achieve this.
In 1904, Antoni Cierplikowski’s boss took him to Trouville, a town near Deauville where the creme de la creme of high society convened, to assist him with preparations for the summer season. There, the young Antoine, as he became known in France, showed remarkable creativity. He replaced Miss Lily de Moure’s lost hat with one made of her own perfectly coiffured hair. Attending an evening soiree without an appropriate hat would have been unfathomable for a lady at the time, but Miss Lily’s elaborate hairstyle was an instant sensation. The next day, all the wealthy women wanted to be combed by the talented ‘little Russian’ as they called him.
The overnight star was, however, 100% Polish, having first arrived in France in 1901. Antoine would, in fact, start and finish his life in the very same town – Sieradz. Though his place of birth and death may point to an unexciting, monotonous life, Antoine’s was anything but. The budding hairdresser cemented his promising reputation upon his return to Paris in the autumn of 1909.
Called to set the hair of Éve Lavallière – a 40-year-old former star who was making her comeback following a serious illness. Éve was supposed to play the part of Antoinette, a woman half her age, in the Alfred Capus play, Angel. Much like with the lost hat, here too Antoine had a creative solution. Instead of a grand hairdo, typical for actresses of Parisian theaters, he decided to go short. Marta Orzeszyna, author of the biography on Antoine, describes the decision as follows:
“It was a revolutionary decision at a time when long hair was deemed the essence of femininity and when touching and combing it carried an erotic undertone. Male hairdressers rarely had access to female tresses – washing, combing and tending to women’s hair was the job of the ladies’ maid. Professionals only dealt with styling hairstyles for special occasions. There was no question of cutting hair short. After all, short hairstyles were worn by such dishonorable individuals as the writer Colette or the actress Polaire.”
Éve Lavallière stole the show with her new signature cut, yet it would take a bit of time before the Antoine look caught on in wider society. Nicknamed ‘la garçonne’ – the boy-cut – the bob became mainstream with the outbreak of war, when practicality and ease of maintenance became vital. The fashion was cemented in 1917, with Coco Chanel sporting her trademark short do. Since then the hairstyle has become iconic, going through various reiterations throughout its over 110-year history. Few, though, know that it was all the bright idea of a talented barber from Sieradz.