On the Queen's crazy, but popular, hairstyles

In "Marie Antoinette's Head," author Will Bashor, a professor at Franklin University, has uncovered the surprising story of the man behind the original pouf.

The 320-page book, released in October, follows the career of stylist Leonard Autié, who had the stressful, yet rewarding, task of twisting the Queen's hair into elaborate and eccentric fixtures.

We talked with Bashor about Leonard's creations and Marie Antoinette's infamous style.

-Taylor Starek, @rogerstaylorj

What about Leonard caught your eye?

I had the chance to live in Paris for a couple of years. I really love French history, and I came across some articles about her [Marie Antoinette] trial and her hair-there was a lock of her hair in a museum, and when I came across this hairdresser, there was nothing written about him. I'm a very curious person, so I started researching him and his life.

What were some of Marie Antoinette's more popular hairstyles?

Naturally, the pouf-that was probably the most popular. It was the one that was almost a yard high. Usually, they topped those with feathers and flowers and jewelry. After she had her first child, she started losing some of her hair, so the hairdresser cut it short. It was called the child's haircut. It made her look younger.

Where did her hairdresser get ideas for these outlandish looks?

He was kind of an artistic genius. Someone would mention something, and he would get an idea. I know there was a newspaper article about a famous actress, and it was an actress that Marie Antoinette really adored. The newspaper article wrote that she was a comet, a bright and shining star. So he came up with an idea to do a pouf àla comet. He wasn't so sure about it, but he accidentally mentioned it to Marie Antoinette, and she said, "Oh, I must have one." So he had to create one that evening. I can only imagine that it was pretty elaborate, with a lot of stars with wiring, so they would look like a comet. It was so popular that they created a pastry called a pastry àla comet.

How did she get around with the pouf?

That was a problem, especially because when she did something, everyone else would follow suit. In Versailles, they actually had to rebuild some of the doorways so that when she was walking from room to room, she wouldn't have to duck. Sometimes when she went out, they would have to pull out some of the top so she could get into the coaches. I guess sleeping was really a problem too. They had to keep it nice and straight. A lot of times when they had their hair dressed in the mornings, they'd have to sit up very straight all day, and I think it was heavy too. They used metal and wire scaffolding and horsehair and human hair to add to their own hair. They weaved it all through with oils.

You write that not everyone approved of these styles.

Even her mother would write her, telling her she's going to be queen of France, not an actress. There were a lot of pamphlets that went around making fun of her hair. She was a foreigner, too, and she tried her best to be French, but I think her hairstyles really started alienating her from her people.

Tell us about the cover design.

This image was from a sketch in the 1700s. Our cover designer loved it, so she made some slight changes to it. We've gotten a lot of compliments on it. The September 2013 issue of "British Vogue" mentioned it, too. [See it here]

Photos courtesy of Will Bashor