It’s the first day of school at Fleurimon in Paris, where students will learn how to style hair and do makeup for the various performing arts. Television, cinema, fashion and theatre: in these worlds, hairstyling is an art in its own right. Report…
In Paris, the Fleurimon School welcomes its students. They have a nice courtyard with trees, a modern kitchen and two large, bright classrooms. One is dedicated to makeup and the other teaches hairstyling for the performing arts. Here, the walls are covered with mirrors and on the shelves, there are model heads, wigs and other hairpieces. Today, the assignment is to reproduce a hairstyle from the Roman era.
A “unique touch” a necessity
Véronique Bodin, the head teacher, has been a hairstylist for the Comédie Française since 1989. She introduces the five young ladies who are taking the 180-hour class over a 3-month session. Created in 2005, the school does not accept more than 15 students. This small number guarantees an excellent education.
Five teachers, all recognized in their fields, take turn teaching the secrets of historical wig-making, the chignon technique for fashion shows and photo shoots and blow-drying styles for cinema and television. On-site outings are also planned. The school works in partnership with the TV program La France a un incroyable talent, and with BFM, Eurodisney, the French figure skating championship and even the Théâtre Mogador, where students can practice their art for the musicals The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Mamma Mia.
The students all have different backgrounds, but only one of them has studied hairstyling. “This isn’t a problem because hairstyling techniques for the performing arts are not at all like those used in the salon. Of course, a hairstylist will already know how to handle hair and will be very accurate, but what we’re asking these young ladies to do is to know how to immerse themselves in a world, to invent a hairstyle that best matches the role, the character and the time period,” states Véronique Bodin, before telling us how she had taught a cashier and a Poly-tech student, both of whom had a “knack” for this.
The Plan: rapidity, dexterity and technique
Katy, Alexia and Isma are makeup artists. They see this hairstyling training for the performing arts as a necessary complement to their profession because “hairstyling and doing makeup go together, and we are often asked to do both,” says Isma, who is already working for several Parisian theatres. Anne does face and body painting and she is also a sculptor and works with bronze. For her, hair is a new medium and a way to express her creativity. Marie spent several years in a salon in Lyon. She now wants to work in fashion and has come here looking for “rapidity, dexterity and technique” as well as a network of contacts in the field.
High-requirement and endurance at a comb’s tip
Many of them dream of sublime beauty, of the glitz and glamor of models, actors and celebrities. Véronique Bodin is sure to remind them of the reality of this career: “You have to stay in the shadows, to leave your own passion aside and have an excellent sense of the sensitive psychology of these artists who are always on stage, judged and stressed out before the curtain rises.” She also mentions the status of the temporary show business worker in France, which often entails difficult working hours.
Although the girls are half-listening, they are all driven by the desire to have a career in the performing arts. They are also concentrated on their assignment of the day: curling, crimping, attaching crêpe paper, ratting the rear, applying to large braids in a spiral to hide hairpins, which would show up under the spotlights.
It is necessary to have finesse, agility and a sharp eye for detail. “You need to know how to use the tricks of the trade, become a ‘MacGyver’, because you don’t always have the equipment, time or budget you may need. You also need to pay attention to the weight of the wig and that it is firmly attached so as not to disrupt the actor,” points out Véronique Bodin from experience.
“Don’t keep your arms so high,” advises the teacher, watching the posture of her hairstyling students. “This is a very physical job. You sometimes have to work urgently, so get a bad posture and you can hurt your shoulders and back. Whenever you can, you have to rest your body.” She recommends another student to practice squeezing balls to strengthen her hands.
Yet technique isn’t everything. “You need 10 years to make a name for yourself in performing arts hairstyling,” warns the head teacher. “Indeed, it is fundamental to learn history and literature and to go to museums. Unlike salon hairstyling, here you need to feel around, make mistakes, improve on these mistakes and offer aesthetic research work in collaboration with the director and costume designer. You’re supporting a project.”
Once the show ends, the magic dissipates and the curtain falls, you have to carefully detach the braids, remove every hair pin and untangle curled hair. Undoing everything is also part of the job. The next class is devoted to making a mustache on a canvas, hair by hair – truly a craftsman’s job.
Photo Crédits ©Alexis Rimbault