Antoni 'Antoine' Cierplikowski – King of Hairdressers
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The creator of new trends, 'the king of hairdressers and the hairdresser of the kings', an artist, patron of the arts, friend of artists and politicians. A provocateur and eccentric who used to sleep in a diamond coffin.
Antoni Cierplikowski, the son of a poor shoemaker from Sieradz, starts his hairdressing adventure at the age of 11. He is taught by his uncle, Paweł Lewandowski, at his salon in Łódź. When his relative cannot come to work, the young Cierplikowski cuts the hair of one of the clients and turns out to be incredibly skilful.
He has no competition in Łódź. In 1901, with five francs in his pocket, he leaves for Paris. His rushed departure is probably also an escape from conscription into the Russian army.
He starts working in the very centre of Paris in Monsieur Decoux’s salon, where he weaves wigs. Ahead of Saint Catherine’s Day, young women swarm hairdressing salons as they prepare for their balls. The young Cierplikowski styles their hair: the clients are delighted with his skills.
Decoux takes Cierplikowski to Trouville, where they have plenty of work before the upcoming ball. One of the aristocrats loses her hats, which excludes her from social meetings. However, Antoine manages to style her hair so exquisitely that the woman arrives at the ball without headwear, consequently establishing a true breach in the custom.
A judge of elegance
From now on, ladies are going to queue to get their hair done by the famous hairdresser. Cierplikowski dictates the rules. He is the first one to breach fossilised rules dating back to medieval times.
Upper-class ladies wear elaborative coiffures. Once styled, they last for weeks. During the day the women cover them with hats, by night – with bonnets.
Cierplikowski sets his clients free from the rather unhygienic custom. He washes their hair, which is a great impact on cultural habits. For the eminent actress Ève Lavallière, he creates à la garçonne (‘boyish’) hairdo. This starts a fashion for short hair, which is much easier to maintain.
Cierplikowski creates a brand new image of a woman: liberated and aware of her worth. His mastery is a step forward in emancipation of women.
In January 1909, Antoine, despite his homosexual inclinations which he does not hide, marries Marie-Berthe Astier. Their son, born in April 1909, lives only a month.
In 1910 Cierplikowski eventually opens his own salon. It only takes him a glimpse to come up with a unique hairdo for each client. He is never wrong. His artfulness makes women look younger thanks to well-chosen hairstyles.
In the 1920s he owns over 60 salons: in the US, Canada, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Japan and Australia. His friend, Xawery Dunikowski, a famous Polish sculptor, helps him design the interiors.
Antoine designs hairstyles for famous film studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He styles the brightest stars: Sara Bernhardt, Pola Negri, Greta Garbo, Josephine Baker, Édith Piaf, and Brigitte Bardot. Coco Chanel herself is envious of his renown. He creates cosmetic brands which last until our day. His fame of a fashion dictator reaches a few continents.
He flies to Poland on his private plane a couple of times in the 1920s and 1930s. He scatters white lilies over entire Sieradz, his parents’ grave included. He opens a salon in Warsaw, too.
He is successful in Paris, London and New York (in the US he owns a network of 121 salons). During the preparations for the coronation of George VI he supervises the work of hairdressers styling 400 women at once. He repeats this spectacular action during the arrangements for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Cierplikowski spends World War II in the US. When peace comes, he returns to Paris. He socialises in the circles of the greatest artists, including Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Maurice Chevalier. Many consider him an eccentric: he lives in a glass-fronted apartment of his Paris tenement house.
He conjoins his professional work with philanthropy. In 1963, he publishes a memoir, originally written in French, which still remains untranslated into Polish.
The artistic circles organise a gala in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Antoine’s work. The French distinguish him with the Legion of Honour, while in Poland he receives the Order of Polonia Restituta.
In 1969, after the death of Marie-Berthe, to whom he has been married for over 50 years, he returns to his family town of Sieradz. He spends the rest of his days there, living in very modest conditions. His artistry did not gain recognition in Poland under communist regime.
Antoni ‘Antoine’ Cierplikowski dies at 91. He is buried at the Sieradz cemetery. A copy of the sculpture Fatum by Xawery Dunikowski adorns his grave. Cierplikowski’s right hand is interred at Passy cemetery in Paris.
Translated by Natalia Sajewicz