Ever wondered where the inspiration came for all those short pixie haircuts we are seeing all over Hollywood and in fashion magazines right now? Allow me to trace the secret life of cropped hair inspired by the actress Jean Seberg, pictured center above.
Jean Seberg was American, born in Iowa, November 13, 1938. As a little known seventeen year-old, she blazed onto the silver screen as Joan of Arc with short shorn-off hair. She beat such heavy weights as Audrey Hepburn for the part in film director Otto Preminger's controversial biopic Saint Joan (1958). Critics canned the movie at the time, blaming the director and Jean Seberg for their inexperience. She is quoted as saying:
"I have two memories of St. Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more. I was scared like a rabbit and it showed on the screen. It was not a good experience at all. I started where most actresses end up."
Film buffs and hair geeks will note that hairdresser Gordan Bond (The Italian Job 1969, Fiddler on the Roof 1971) was responsible for cutting and maintaining Jean Seberg’s hair on set.
But it wasn’t until Jean Seberg met legendary cult film director Jean-Luc Godard that she got her worldwide fame with a film called “A bout de Soufflé” released in 1960, or with the English title “Breathless”. Seberg plays Patricia, her flawless French betrayed only by the hint of her American accent. Nine minutes and forty seconds into the film we see Seberg, a gamine figure with the face of innocence, hawking the New York Herald Tribune in her T-shirt, pedal-pushers and flats, walking down the Champ Elysee. It is an iconic moment in motion picture history. It’s at that exact moment in time when the film critics and the fashion elite took notice.
For me, as a hairdresser, I see Jean Seberg’s hair in “A bout de Soufflé” as one part American classic glamour: clean sophisticated lines, cool and casual. And yet, there is part of that Parisian charm of looking like she rolled out of bed effortlessly, slightly disheveled and without a concern about her hair at all. I have described this haircut to my colleagues as “the right kind of wrong haircut”: strong, liberating and defiant, yet soft and oh-so-feminine. At the 39 minute 14 second mark, you can watch Seberg cut her own hair with nail scissors. A key scene where her hairstyle is summed up as deliberate, yet not contrived at all.
Jean Seberg is quoted as saying, “I know they (the French) loved the short hair. It was very daring then because of the concentration camp memories”.
Sure, she wasn’t the first woman to have short-cropped hair. In fact, during the 1920s, short hair was fashionable across America and Europe with girls cutting their long hair off with the introduction of the flapper movement. In London, the Elton crop was all the rage. In 1926, the singer, entertainer and actress Josephine Baker caused a stir dancing the Charleston in Paris with very short hair. But it wasn’t until 1960 that a new kind of modern cropped-hair was defined. It’s like year zero for modern hairstyles.
May 31st 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of “A bout de Soufflé” and Jean Seberg’s pixie crop. And like all great Hollywood legends, Jean Seberg died under mysterious circumstances on 30th August 1979. She was found dead eleven days later in her car on the streets of Paris. Her involvement with the Black Panthers and the infamous FBI files only feed more into her mystique. Her style, and that haircut live on.
Pictured clock-wise from top right Michelle Williams, Agness Dewyn, Kate Moss, Pixie Geldof, Natalie Portman, Voctoria Beckham, Edie Sedgewick, Carey Mulligan, Milagros Schmoll, Twiggy, and Mia Fallow. Center Jean Seberg, a film still from the film Breathless.