Queen Victoria’s Hairdresser:
Nestor Tirard and the Crowning Glory
AUTHOR: KAREN ELLIS-REES
PUBLISHED: 7 JULY 2019
Recently a curious advertisement in The Morning Post dated 1 March 1879 caught my eye:
HER MAJESTY’S DRAWING ROOMS.
LESSONS in the Correct COURT HEADDRESS, as approved at the Lord Chamberlain’s-office, given DAILY by NESTOR TIRARD, Coiffeur Fleuriste, by special appointments
To her Majesty the QUEEN,
H.R.H. the Princess of WALES,
H.I. and R.H. the Duchess of EDINBURGH,
And the Royal Family.
29, Curzon-street, Mayfair, London, W.
Investigations into Monsieur Tirard reveal not one but a veritable dynasty of hairdressers with royal connections.
Born in France in 1821, Jean Nestor Marie Tirard — Nestor Tirard was his professional name — became hairdresser-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria from 1846 on a salary of £300 a year. ‘In ordinary’ denotes that he was a regular member of the Royal Household staff. He continued in this post until his retirement nineteen years later. At some point after his son took charge of the royal hairbrush.
As with many areas of professional life in the nineteenth century, family connections secured Nestor’s entrée into the royal favour. In June 1846 at St Marylebone Church he married Marie Félicité, the daughter of Isidore Simon Marchand, who was a fellow hairdresser and, most importantly, hairdresser to the Queen. It is quite likely that Nestor had married the boss’s daughter.
The first royal hairdresser
We need to take a step back to look at the Marchand family Isidore and his brother, Denis, who was also known as Tony, and their sister, Louise Victoire Alphonsine, were all born in Orléans in France. Their father was a wig maker and hairdresser, but they were orphaned in 1810 when they were very young. How they came to England I don’t know, but I suspect that they were adopted by another member of the hairdressing family, as the boys followed the same trade.
They arrived in England some time before 1828, when Isidore and his wife Ann, a local Marylebone girl, had their first child. Denis went on to open a perfume and hairdresser shop on Regent’s Street, and Louise married a hairdresser-parfumier by the name of Gibbins, who was himself the son of a hairdresser-parfumier.
During the 1830s Isidore worked for Queen Adelaide, the wife of William IV. A glance at any painting or sculpture of the Queen with her elaborate coiffure of enormous sausage-shaped curls and ringlets makes it obvious that he had his work cut out. He also dressed the hair of the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria. Unfortunately he succumbed to mentally illness, and in 1846 he was forced to retire. He died at the London House Asylum in Hackney on 1 October 1847 aged only forty-four, and was then buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
Nestor takes over
Interestingly it was Nestor who stepped into his father-in-law’s shoes as the Queen’s hairdresser. Perhaps he was more talented than the other hairdressers in the Marchand family, or perhaps in less enlightened times Isidore’s illness made those related to him by blood unacceptable.
Dressing the Queen’s hair twice a day was not Nestor’s only source of income. In 1850 an advertisement in the newspapers announced that he was available during the Court’s stay in London to give lessons in hairdressing at his premises at 27A Davies Street. He also advertised in French, perhaps for a more sophisticated touch, that he was selling beautiful artificial flowers from Paris. These included the plumes de cour that were the feathers any woman being presented at court would be expected to sport.
How to present oneself
During Victoria’s reign three feathers — one tall with a smaller one on either side — were the preferred fashion. Curtsying before the Queen without losing the headdress must have been an anxiety for those being presented. The lady in question, having survived the danger of a social faux pas, then had to leave Her Majesty’s presence, walking backwards and making sure she did not trip over her train, which could be all of ten feet long.
A description in The Nouveau Beau Monde of the outfit a Miss Chichester wore to court in 1845 noted that her costume du cour comprised
a train of rich glacé rose des Indes lined with white silk, trimmed with Crepe lisse and elegant bows; body and sleeves à la sevigue — probably a misspelling of Sévigné — with trimmings of blonde; skirt of handsome white satin, blond and bows. Coiffure of ostrich feathers, lappets and diamonds.
A portrait of Nestor
Nestor is mentioned in newspaper reports as making the bridesmaids’ headdresses for the wedding of the Princess Royal – Vicky – to Frederick of Prussia in 1858. By 1861 he had moved to 25 Down Street with his wife Maria and their daughter, Nancy. Their two sons, Nestor and Albert Victor, who was presumably named in honour of the Queen and her consort, were away at school.
In the Royal Collections there is a photograph of Nestor along with those of other members of the Royal Household. He is a plump bald-headed man with the extensive fuzzy side whiskers known as Dundrearies or Piccadilly weepers. He is wearing a frock coat, a waistcoat, a stiff-fronted shirt and possibly — it is hard to see beneath all that fuzz — a small bow tie. His shoes look sturdy, as would be appreciated by someone who would be on their feet all day. He seems to be holding a folded towel or serviette.
In 1867 he was retired from the Royal Household: it could be that the hours of standing made hairdressing a young man’s game. It would seem that Albert Victor took over from him, although the firm continued to be called ‘Nestor Tirard’. The firm provided the flowers for Princess Louise’s wedding to the Marquis of Lorne in 1871, and in 1879 made a wreath of orange flower and myrtle for Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia on her marriage to the Duke of Connaught. Nestor arranged the Princess’s veil and hair, and one wonders if he came out of retirement specially for the event.
By 1881 the Tirards were living in a rented property at 39 Curzon Street next to the Curzon chapel. In 1888, on 26 May, Jean Nestor Marie died at 10 Albert Terrace in Margate, a fitting address for a royal servant. He was buried in Norwood Cemetery on 1 June 1881.
A word about Albert Victor
Albert Victor continued as the Queen’s hairdresser and is mentioned in her diary entry for 26 February 1889:
… An early luncheon, after which dressed for the Drawingroom, which was at 3. I wore deep black … It was a very full & long Drawingroom. I had a dreadful misadventure. Tirard (the coiffeur) had not pinned my cap & veil sufficiently firmly, & when, as I felt the room warm, I asked Louisa Buccleuch to remove the lace scarf I had on my shoulders, happening to turn my head round at the same moment to speak to Ld Lathom, off came the whole thing completely! The Ladies rushed to put it on again, but badly of course, & Alix & Lenchen helped, but it was dreadful, though most ludicrous. I shall never forget the moment, when it came off before the quantities of people, staring at me, Corps Diplomatique, Ministers, Court, &c.
What reprimand Albert Victor received is not recorded.
Albert Victor Tirard — great-grandson of the French wigmaker, grandson of Queen Adelaide’s and Queen Victoria’s hairdresser, son of Queen Victoria’s and numerous other royals’ hairdresser — died childless in 1921.