“All out?” a dubious Italian coiffeur asks Audrey Hepburn, 24, with long hair, in her first starring role as a runaway princess in Roman holiday. “Everything is ready”, the future gamine orders him. This most famous screen haircut in film history gave rise, in the following decades, to a myriad of imitators and a single label.
Nobody knows who was the first to call it a “pixie” cut, and not even where the word was elf itself comes from. The dictionary says that a goblin is “a cheerful and mischievous spirit” or “a woman usually petite and lively”. But my best guess is that the term was part of a larger social effort to gently and lovably tame a gesture that, in the right hands, could have the flavor of radical female reinvention and empowerment. No one called Joan of Arc a “foltina” when she cut her hair to lead an army charged with saving medieval France from the British. But she remained loyal to Jean Seberg (Otto Preminger’s 1957 star Saint Joan), and given his serious ambitions, he must have scratched. No one would have dared to call Frida Kahlo a “foltina” in 1940 when she, after her divorce from Diego Rivera, she immortalized her self-cut curls in a painting of her. (The couple would remarry by the end of that year.)
These styles go way beyond the wave of bobs that broke about a year ago when women started tiptoeing back into salons. First-rate Parisian hairstylist Rishi Jokhoo reports a recent increase in the number of long-time clients arriving at his 1st arrondissement atelier in search of radical makeovers, explaining how features take on greater importance and identities change as “You can’t hide behind your hair anymore.” Meanwhile, Etienne Sekola, who will open a new salon with Jokhoo later this year, and who has taken iconoclast Bond girl Léa Seydoux for the Fall 2021 promotion of There is no time to die– credits the brilliant French actor with the inspiration for adopting these confidence-building cuts.
And there’s nothing particularly cute or demure about the latest iteration of the style. “I hate the word elf,”Says Guido Palau, who kicked off a new craze for short, really short hair at the Valentino couture show in January, giving British model Fran Summers an enveloping, dark-dyed and irreverently idiosyncratic cut. The same description applies to the chunky crop around Jean Campbell’s ears courtesy of his longtime hairdresser, Luke Hersheson, who did away with the ethereal model’s super long blonde tresses. And big changes were also taking place in Michael Kors backstage, where Orlando Pita snatched the bombshell waves of supermodel Isabeli Fontana. Partly inspired by a photograph of Linda Evangelista from the 1990s, the cut was also intended as a departure from the heyday of Fontana’s “sexy Brazilian” Victoria’s Secret, when “sexy” meant long hair. “This cut shows me in my truest light,” she said after the show.
They weren’t always considered an advantage. “Until 1794, cutting a woman’s hair was almost always a sign that her femininity was being stripped and her life destroyed,” says art historian Anne Higonnet. “It took a moment of complete social upheaval after the French Revolution for the idea of short hair as punishment to be overturned,” she explains. Higonnet, whose book, Freedom, Equality, Fashion, will focus on three style icons of the French Revolution, he attributes to Thérésa Tallien, a French aristocrat of Spanish origin with revolutionary inclinations, the leadership of the office. “Tallien was thrown into prison during the Terror, her hair was cut and her clothes were confiscated,” says Higonnet. She “she helped to overthrow Robespierre from prison and when she got out she was the darling of France, but she had lost everything. So she took advantage of her popularity and declared that her short hair and her undergarments were the ultimate Parisian chic. “
The cuts have caught on with a hip audience emerging from the trauma of an upside-down society. (Sound familiar?) They’ve been called Titus hairstyles in honor of the Roman emperor, although they were also called “porcupine hair”, which does not roll off the tongue as “pixie” – or “mixie”, a term recently coined by neologists to mark the evolution of the last season mullet in these quick-drying, washable and wearable haircuts, the practicality of which is understandably tempting.