By: Sarah Thiel and Julia Ward
Avid watchers of Downton Abbey will recall the scene in which Sir Anthony notices Lady Edith’s stylish new 1920s finger wave coiffure, and observes that she has “done something jolly” with her hair. Like the ladies of Downton, women of the ’20s and ’30s began to reject the impractical “corsets, bustles [and] long-sweeping skirts” of their grandmother’s day, and the “long hair, so often dressed exquisitely and in pompous grandeur” that went with them (v.2, no.2, Feb 1930, p.2); instead they adopted shorter, more pragmatic (though no less glamorous) bobbed haircuts and elaborately permed styles. Thus new techniques and equipment were soon being developed to best achieve this “jolly” new look of curls and finger waves. At the cutting edge of this field of hairdressing innovation was Eugène F. Suter, who developed his own special “Eugene method” and technology to achieve the popular styles of this era.
The Eugene Ltd company was based in Edgware Road in London, but its magazine, The Eugène Waver, contained handy advice and instructions for career hairdressers across the country, keeping them abreast of all the latest Eugène products, styling techniques and hairdressing trends. The magazine affectionately referred to its professional readership as the ‘Eugène wavers’. The National Art Library’s Trade Literature collection holds a run of 19 bound volumes of this magazine, from 1928 to 1947, kindly donated by Mary Jephcott (nee Voss), whose parents had themselves worked for Eugène. The Eugène trademark emblazoned on the cover of each volume is an exotic, Art Deco goddess figure, seated in a lotus pose, her head adorned with a full crown of hair curlers. This logo seems to draw on the 1920s trend for all things Egyptian.
The magazine advertises Eugène’s range of products, such as colour rinses, lustre-lending shampoos, and setting lotions (specially formulated to be less ‘gummy’ than other brands). The magazine also instructs the professional Eugène waver on how to achieve the most flattering “mingle” of waves and ringlets, and explains the crucial importance of tapering the hair, in order to produce the perfect curl. To create a genuine Eugène permanent wave, moreover, required the use of at least two dozen of the patented Eugène steaming sachets. In conjunction with these sachets, the practitioner used Eugène’s innovative curlers and electric dryer, said to dry hair in a fraction of the time previously required.
Beyond hairdressing tips and company news, the magazine also includes hairdressing and window-display competitions, (as well as a surprising number of references to Eugène staff golf tournaments!) Particularly in the later volumes, there are noticeably more entertaining elements injected into the magazine, such as funny cartoon strips and crossword puzzles, often using hairdressing-based clues, most likely intended to keep up the hairdressers’ spirits during war time.
These later volumes not only document changing styles and trends, as hair fashions continued to evolve throughout the 1940s, but they also reflect the realities of World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the volumes become considerably smaller, due to government-imposed restrictions on paper usage. The January 1942 issue optimistically presents this new “pocket size” format as an improvement, making it easier to handle and read. When the magazine’s size is scaled down even further in May, the Editor jokes that the reader will soon be told to find their Waver magazine concealed under the postage stamp.
An advertisement in the December 1939 issue, encourages customers to “Prepare for HIS leave!” by getting their hair curled so that they might look their “charming best” when they send their husbands and sweethearts off to fight (v.11, no.7, Dec 1939, p.19). By 1945, the magazine began to promote their contributions to the war effort. Eugene Ltd had turned their factory over to the manufacture of millions of small parts such as screws and rivets for airplanes and tanks.
This run of magazines at the National Art Library is a real treasure trove, which could provide a huge source of inspiration for fashion students, hair dressers, costume designers and students of fashion history, as well as being thoroughly enjoyed by any lovers of costume dramas like Downton Abbey.
Eugène Waver Magazine volumes available in the National Art Library:
- Eugene Ltd., The Eugène Waver Volume 1 – Volume 13. London: Eugene Ltd., 1928-1941. Pressmarks: TC.B.0090 – TC.B.0102.
- Eugene Ltd., The Eugène Waver Volume 14 – Volume 18. London: Eugene Ltd., 1942-1946. Pressmarks: TC.A.0027 – TC.A.0031.
- Eugene Ltd., The Eugène Waver Volume 19. London: Eugene Ltd., 1947. Pressmark: TC.B.0103.