This Season’s Most Compelling Haircut Offers Wash-And-Wear Ease—And the Promise of Transformation


“A  ll off?” a doubtful Italian coiffeur asks a long-haired, 24-year-old Audrey Hepburn in her first starring role as a princess-on-the-lam in Roman Holiday. “All off,” the soon-to-be-​gamine commands him. This most famous onscreen haircut in movie history gave rise, in the decades that followed, to a host of imitators—and a single label.

No one knows who was the first to call it a “pixie” cut, or even where the word pixie itself comes from. The dictionary says a pixie is “a cheerful, mischievous sprite” or “a usually petite, vivacious woman.” But my best guess is that the term was part of a broader social effort to tame with cuteness and adorability a gesture that, in the right hands, might smack of radical feminine reinvention and empowerment. No one called Joan of Arc a “pixie” when she cut off her hair to lead an army tasked with saving medieval France from the English. But it stuck to Jean Seberg (the star of Otto Preminger’s 1957 Saint Joan), and given her serious ambitions, it must have grated. No one would have dared to call Frida Kahlo a “pixie” in 1940 when, post-divorce from Diego Rivera, she immortalized her self-shorn locks in a painting. (The couple would remarry by the end of that year.)

Model Jean Campbell wears a heavy-fringed short style by hairstylist Luke Hersheson.

Photo: Abigail M. Summers/Courtesy of DNA Models.

These styles go far beyond the wave of bobs that broke a year or so ago, when women began tiptoeing back into salons. A-list Parisian hairstylist Rishi Jokhoo reports a recent uptick in the number of longtime clients arriving at his 1st arrondissement atelier in search of radical makeovers, explaining how features take on added importance, and identities change, when you “can’t hide behind your hair anymore.” Meanwhile, Etienne Sekola—who will open a new salon with Jokhoo later this year, and who took iconoclastic Bond girl Léa Seydoux super-short for the fall 2021 promotion of No Time to Die—credits the brilliant French actor as inspiration for the embrace of these confidence-boosting cuts.

And there’s nothing particularly cute or demure about the style’s latest iteration. “I hate the word pixie,” says Guido Palau, who kicked off a new craze for short—really short—hair at Valentino’s couture show in January, giving British model Fran Summers a head-hugging, dark-dyed, irreverently idiosyncratic chop. The same description applies to Jean Campbell’s chunky, around-the-ears crop courtesy of her longtime hairdresser, Luke Hersheson, which did away with the ethereal model’s superlong, flaxen tresses. And big changes were also afoot backstage at Michael Kors, where Orlando Pita sheared off supermodel Isabeli Fontana’s bombshell waves. Partly inspired by a 1990s photograph of Linda Evangelista, the cut was also meant as a departure from Fontana’s “sexy Brazilian” Victoria’s Secret heyday, when “sexy” meant long hair. “This cut shows me in my truest light,” she said after the show.

Model Isabeli Fontana’s dramatic chop for Michael Kors. Courtesy of Women Management

They weren’t always considered a plus. “Until 1794, cutting a woman’s hair short was almost always a sign of her femininity being stripped away and her life being destroyed,” says art historian Anne Higonnet. “It took a moment of complete social upheaval following the French Revolution for the idea of short hair as punishment to get turned around,” she explains. Higonnet, whose book, Liberty, Equality, Fashion, will focus on three style icons of the French Revolution, credits Thérésa Tallien—a Spanish-​born French aristocrat with revolutionary inclinations—with leading the charge. “Tallien was thrown in jail during the Terror, her hair was chopped off, and her clothing was confiscated,” says Higonnet. “She helped overthrow Robespierre from within prison, and when she got out, she was the darling of France, but she’d lost everything. So she leveraged her popularity and declared that her short hair and undergarments were the ultimate Parisian chic.”

The cuts caught on with a fashionable public emerging from the trauma of a society turned upside down. (Sound familiar?) They were called coiffures à la Titus in honor of the Roman emperor, though they also went by the name “porcupine hair,” which doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like “pixie”—or “mixie,” a term recently coined by neologists to mark the evolution of last season’s mullets into these quick-drying, wash-and-wear haircuts, whose practicality is understandably alluring.



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