A cut above: Stylist to the stars dies

Hairdresser to the royal, the rich and the celebrated, Alexandre de Paris did everyone from Liz Taylor to Claudia Schiffer. As his death is announced, John Lichfield celebrates the first – and sharpest – of the 'haut coiffeurs'

In 1962, Elizabeth Taylor fell seriously ill while making the blockbuster movie Cleopatra in London. Ms Taylor was then regarded as the world's most beautiful woman. She was about to start a celebrated affair with her co-star, Richard Burton.

What thing, or person, she was asked on her sick-bed, could make her feel better? She replied, instantly: "Bring me Alexandre."

"Alexandre" was not a lover or a doctor or a friend or a pet or a child. He was a hairdresser, the first of the "hauts coiffeurs", the man who turned women's, and occasionally men's, hair into an ephemeral art-form. For half a century, "Alexandre de Paris", whose death at the age of 85 was announced at the weekend, was hairdresser to the royal, the rich and the celebrated: from the Duchess of Windsor (one of his first clients), to Claudia Schiffer, via Princess Grace, Princess Margaret and Greta Garbo.

"They called me straight away," Alexandre once said of his ministration to the sick Elizabeth Taylor in 1962. "I jumped in a plane and went to London. There, in her hospital bed, she was held up by three nurses while I created her famous artichoke cut."

The vaguely ancient Egyptian spikes and ringlets brought off a miraculous cure. They also became one of the famous screen "looks" of all time. The film Cleopatra was generally regarded at the time as a turkey. The hairdo was a triumph.

Alexandre de Paris was born as Louis Alexandre Raimon, in Saint Tropez in September 1922. He was still dressing the hair of his final clients – Sophia Loren and the Countess of Paris, wife to the pretender to the French throne – into his 80s. He retired to his birth-place three years ago and died there late last week.

Alexandre de Paris was, a wiry man with a 1930s-style pencil moustache. He was once memorably described as looking "like a cross between a P G Wodehouse character and Salvador Dali". Although high camp in style and conversation, and a close friend of the bisexual French writer and artist Jean Cocteau, Alexandre Raimon was married with two children.

Over more than half-a-century, he created the most glittering client lists. He was the Duchess of Windsor's hairdresser for 30 years. Sophia Loren is said to have had more than 500 appointments with him. Greta Garbo was a client, but also "a friend". He also dressed the hair of Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Liza Minnelli, Shirley MacLaine, and Romy Schneider.

The fashion designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier called him "Alexandre the Great". Paco Duffo, Alexandre's assistant for 30 years, before setting up his own salon in Barcelona, once said of his mentor: "There are a lot of barbers and few hairdressers ...Monsieur Alexandre makes love with hair ...He is so quick with his fingers: I pass him pins and it is as though they grow from his fingertips – it's magic.

Alexandre described the secret of his success more succinctly: "Never disappoint a woman."

As a young man, his parents, restaurateurs in Saint-Tropez, wanted him to be a doctor. The young Louis Alexandre was interested in only one part of the human anatomy: hair. As a small child, he would practice hair-styles on his grandmother's waist-length blonde locks.

At the age of 14, he was apprenticed to Antoine de Paris, one of the most celebrated society hairdressers of his day. Antoine was celebrated for always wearing white and sleeping in a coffin. He had made his name by styling the hair of the actress Sarah Bernhardt and creating the so-called "garçon" or boyish look for Chanel in the 1920s.

Alexandre once said of his early hairdressing career with Antoine: "My mother took me to a fortune-teller. The first card she turned over was the Queen of Hearts. 'You will meet a king's wife and she will determine your future path.' Naturally, I didn't believe a word. Two years' later, in 1946, I actually met a king's wife who made me famous."

Alexandre had styled the hair of the wife of the Aga Khan, the Begum Aga Khan, for a ball to celebrate her marriage. The guests included the Duchess of Windsor, the former Wallis Simpson, wife of the former King Edward VIII, who was living in gilded exile in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.

"The very next day, (the Duchess) called me and asked me to go and see her," Alexandre said in an interview with The Independent in 1998. "She gave me a thousand explanations as to what she wanted, and then I did her hair. The next day I got another call." 'What did you do to my hair?' she asked. 'I disobeyed you and did exactly the opposite of what you requested,' I admitted. 'It's wonderful!' she said. 'For the first time in my life, I woke up with my hair exactly as it was when I went to sleep. From now on, you will stay by my side'."

The severe, elegant hairstyle which Alexandre said that he had "knitted" for the Duchess became her trademark. His association with the Duchess changed his life. "They were like parents to me," he says with a hint of nostalgia. They persuaded magazines to write profiles of him. The Duchess introduced him to 400 wealthy or celebrated clients.

Alexandre went on to become not only the favourite hairdresser of the world's richest and most beautiful women but the most sought after high fashion hair stylist. For 34 years, he created the hair "look" at the shows of Yves Saint Laurent.

He was celebrated especially for creating the "chignon", or elaborate bun, which dominated women's hair-fashions in the late 1950s. He also worked with Givenchy, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler.

Alexandre created his own collection of locks of hair from his celebrated customers, which he had preserved in Perspex. He became a close friend of many of his clients, including one celebrity famous for having few friends: the actress Greta Garbo.

"When she came to the salon, she would say: 'Hide me! Don't let anyone see me'," he once said. "She also told me: 'I hate hairdressers. Don't style my hair. Cut it!'" He gave her a fringed bob.

He was, however, equally dutiful in his service to the less famous. In a letter to The Independent in 1990, Lady Iris Hayter, widow of a celebrated former British ambassador to Cold War Moscow, described how Alexandre de Paris had opened his salon especially for her in 1955 when her hair left "a great deal to be desired after almost a year of Soviet hairdressing".

"I found myself climbing Alexandre's stairs in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and ringing the bell of his closed salon. As I walked in, a shadowy figure in a blue hair-net stood up and kissed my hand. It was Jean Cocteau. Not much later I emerged, transformed, I suppose, and Alexandre left for his daily appointment with the Duchess of Windsor."

Alexandre said the secret of his success was "to recognise a woman's personality and match her hair to it". He also once said: "I express myself through hair. I can translate my dreams." Asked for "tips" on how women should look after their hair, he would give two pieces of advice. First, they should change their brand of shampoo every two months. Like bodies and minds, hair thrives on variety, he said. Secondly, women should brush their hair at least 100 times before going to bed.

Alexandre de Paris was twice a winner of France's fashion "Oscars" in 1963 and 1969. He was made a knight of the Légion d'honneur, France's highest civilian award, and also a knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

He was president of the World Federation of Hairdressing between 1978 and 1993.

Asked once why he got on so well with his women clients, he said: "I never revealed any secret I heard. They had confidence in me and knew that I would not repeat anything."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Manchester United team walk out ahead of the pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Inter Milan at FedExField
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent Uncapped Commission Structure: ...

Sales Executive, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting entertainment comp...

Retail Business Analyst

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Ecommerce/Retail/E...

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz