Louise Contat: 1780-1790
Louise Contat (1760-1813) was a French actress who made her stage debut in 1776 and rose to fame in 1784 from her performance in Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s play, The Marriage of Figaro. Contat was not only renowned for her acting skills, but also for her glamorous fashion sense. Even though, despite their popularity, actresses were often equated with prostitutes in men’s eyes, many women mimicked the costumes and hairstyles Contat wore in her stage plays. Contat was particularly known for her hairstyles, which were elaborate and involved powdered curls and rolls piled on top of the head, which became a trend among French women. For example, the French publication Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français depicted a fashion illustration in which a woman is wearing her hair “à la Contat” (Galerie des Modes). Moreover, Contat was such a trendsetter that her unique style was talked about in fashion magazines.
“In its issue of November 20, 1786, the Magasin des Modes nouvelles referred to bonnets ‘à la Turque’ and ‘à la Randan’ (known by some as ‘à la Bayard’) that owed their origin to the ‘exquisite taste of the famous Actress who played the role of Madame de Randan in Les Amours de Bayard, a new comedy by M. Monvel’. Lest its readers were unaware of the identity of this ‘famous Actress,’ the editor added a note clarifying that she was ‘Mademoiselle CONTAT, who had already created hats à la Suzanne, à la Figaro, &c’” (Majer).