hair designer Kathie Rothkop has been working with
people's hair for 30 years. But she didn't know anything,
until recently, about the history of her profession.
What she learned was a real hair-raiser.
Hairdressing did not emerge as a profession until
the reign of Louis XVI of France and the influence
on hair fashions by his mistress, Madame de Pompadour,
who was fond of dressing her hair in unusual ways.
"Up until this time," Rothkop continued,
"there were wig makers but no hairdressers.Women
starting hiring artists to come and make these creations,
which is where the word hairdresser came from - they
dressed the hair with ornamentation." By 1767,
Rothkop said, there were 1,200 hairdressers working
in Paris; a few years earlier there had been none.
Author Connie Willis explains in Bellwether,
her book about fads, that the diorama wig craze was
inspired by Pompadour. Hair was draped over a frame
stuffed with cotton wool or straw and cemented with
a paste that hardened, then the hair was powdered
and decorated. Hairdos had waterfalls, cupids and
scenes from novels. Naval battles, complete with ships
and smoke, perched on top of women's heads and one
widow, overcome with mourning for her dead husband,
had his tombstone erected in her hair."The sky
was the limit," Rothkop said with a grin.
Madame de Pompadour is most famous today, however,
for lending her name to a hairstyle that still exists
- the pompadour. In it, Rothkop explained, the hair
was frizzed, i.e. backcombed high at the forehead,
then brought back into a bun. It may have been high
fashion, Rothkop said, but "these hairdos caused
tons of problems. The women developed backaches from
the weight - remember they were already corseted -
and since they didn't have mousse and gels, they used
She wrinkled up her nose as she passed on a recipe
for taming hair, 18th century style: "Take some
beef marrow and remove all the bits of skin and bone.
Put it in a pot with some hazelnut oil and stir well
with the end of a rolling pin. Add more oil from time
to time until it is thoroughly liquified. Add a little
essence of lemon." "Bear grease," she
added with a grimace, "can be substituted for
the beef marrow."
In addition, "When they had these made, they
weren't going to take them down. It indicated wealth.
The bigger your hair, the more money you had.
"So they'd keep the hairstyles for a week, and
the pomades would go rancid. You know the term, 'Your
hair's a rat's nest?' Well, it was literally true,"
she shuddered. Women couldn't sit comfortably in carriages,
she said, and they had to take the headboards off
their beds and move the beds out from the wall. Worst
of all was the danger of fire - the greasy hair was
highly flammable and candles were everywhere.
Rothkop's research has stimulated her to recreate,
in a modern way, the fabulous hairdos of the French
court. "Let's do something fun with hairdressing,"
she thought and created fairy-tale coiffures for each
of the four seasons. She calls them fantasy hairdos.
I'm not doing it for anyone," she said,
"just the creative adventure and the fun."
She would like to enter her fantasies in the North
American Hairstyling Awards which she explained are
like Oscars for hairdressers.
The work is labor intensive and expensive, she said.
"It takes about two hours to do a hairstyle like
this," plus shopping for the materials. But,
the four models she created the fantasy hairstyles
on adored the double-takes they got. "People
were honking, waving, laughing - they said they'd
never had so much attention." She added that
a fantasy hairstyle would be beautiful for a wedding.
Rothkop has lived in Santa Rosa for 12 years, and
up until fairly recently worked in Marin. She wasn't
sure about making the move to Petaluma - she works
with Robert Ravnikar at Trico Salon at 400 Fourth
Street - "but my Marin clients are coming here,
they're making monthly excursions to Petaluma and
enjoying a day of shopping, lunch and exploring."
What is it that attracts Rothkop to this profession?
"I've always had this thing for dressing hair,"
she said. "When I was in high school my parents
were in the restaurant business and I was the up-do
person; I did the cocktail waitresses' hair."
One of the things she enjoys about hairstyling is
that it's never the same. "Hairdressing
follows fashion, and fashion follows history."
"The greatest example is in the 1900s. Women
wore high-necked blouses, long sleeves, cinched waists
and long skirts. Their hair was up in a Gibson Girl
poofy knot and everything was very proper and Victorian,
you never let your hair down. "Well,
the 1920s came along - there were speakeasies, women
got the right to vote, and what did they do but cut
their skirts off and bob their hair."
As history guides the years, and the hairstyles ahead,
Rothkop will be watching and studying. She points
out that, "When people meet you, they don't look
at your feet, they look at your head. Hair is the
most important accessory you wear. There's a famous
saying, 'A woman's hair is her crowning glory,' so
wear your crown in style."