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Kenneth Battelle: The Hairdresser Behind Jackie’s Bouffant

Back in 1961, the New York Times ran a lengthy article to mark the 34th birthday of a Manhattan hairdresser who had already reached such a level of renown that the paper dispensed with its traditional practice of referring to a news subject by his surname and the title “Mr.” Instead, it simply referred to him as “Kenneth,” and proclaimed, lyrically, that “being besieged by a bevy of beautiful women is all in the line of business for one young man.”

Jackie KennedyBut that only partly captured the allure and the artistry of Kenneth Battelle, for whom the term “hair stylist to the stars” would have been an understatement. Battelle, who died on May 13 at age 86 in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., was perhaps the first coiffure creator to become an international celebrity in his own right, one with so much juice that Glamour magazine reportedly boosted its circulation simply by mentioning his name on the cover. Over the years, Battelle’s clientete sounded like the invitee list for an Academy Awards telecast: Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, and Lucille Ball (who referred to Battelle as “God”) were among a few of the Hollywood stars who went to him in an effort to look sufficiently glamorous on the red carpet.

Just as great painters tend to be known for a single masterpiece, Battelle had his signature coiffure: the gracefully billowy bouffant that he created in 1954 for the wife of a rising junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Jacqueline Kennedy turned to the then-unknown Battelle only because her regular stylist had called in sick. According to a 2003 Vanity Fair profile, Battelle, with remarkable boldness, decided that Mrs. Kennedy’s short, layered, frizzy “Italian cut” wasn’t right for her height and bone structure. Instead, he persuaded her that she should let that hairstyle grow out and go for a totally different look.

In the months that followed, Battelle stretched out Jackie’s hair, using special large-sized curlers that he had custom made, and gave it a more relaxed, natural appearance. The remarkable makeover transformed Battelle into a sought-after talent. He developed a special technique for making hair look soft and full, which involved wetting it and affixing clips to sections to separate them, while he snipped at them with blunt scissors.

Here are 10 intriguing facts about Battelle:

 

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