Historical story

The most famous Polish gay

He spent his life with one woman, but only loved men. A genius and scandalist, the prototype of the stereotypical gay hairdresser, he was friends with clergymen and crowned heads. And the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland honored him with the Order of Polonia Restituta.

The king of hairdressers Antoine Cierplikowski (you can read more about his career in my previous article) for fifty years was the husband of the manicurist Marie-Louise-Berthe Astier and never cheated on her with another woman or abandoned her, but he also did not give her affection. The relationship with her from the beginning was based on friendship and a search for motherly affection.

Cierplikowski remembered the first night together as an experience completely devoid of desire and romanticism. Nevertheless, the girl became pregnant and Antoine married her, making a sensible and mature decision.

Half a century without love

Unfortunately, a young couple lost their son only a month after his birth. The death of the child made Antoine feel like an adult, a man responsible for his desperate wife. But he never loved her.

Supposedly, Antoine didn't care about the most beautiful legs in the world - he was only close to Mistinguett.

Over the years, Marie-Berthe has fallen into the background - both in private and professional life. She devoted her own career to the company and lived in the shadow of a famous husband. She had to endure Antoine's lavish lifestyle, his friendships and fascinations, and the presence of her husband's lovers in their home.

The wife of the king of hairdressers must also have watched as he squandered a considerable fortune on dependents. Many have taken advantage of Antoine's homosexuality to pursue a career. Marta Orzeszyna, author of the master's extensive biography entitled Antoine Cierplikowski. King of hairdressers, hairdresser of kings , writes:

Antoine's homosexuality, although never publicized by him, was an open secret from the beginning and no one had any doubts about it. Apart from his wife, there was no other woman in his life. He was looking mainly for male friendships, women as clients and friends were enough for him.

His lesbian or bisexual girlfriends included French actress Sarah Bernhardt, American dancer Isadora Duncan, Parisian dancer and courtesan Liane de Pougy or Mistinguett, recognized as the first French singer who is an icon of gay circles. They put Antoine into spheres in which he could feel completely accepted.

Gay Island

At the beginning of the 20th century, Paris was a homosexual-friendly city, or at least very tolerant of them. In France, same-sex relationships were not punished, and the artistic spheres were always looked at through the fingers. French society was extremely discreet.

Nevertheless, the homosexual community was strongly integrated at the time - it had its own code, it had its own clubs, theaters and cinemas. It also respected people who, like Antoine, led a seemingly normal family life.

In the interwar period, Berlin was considered the gay capital of Europe. The photo shows the gay club Eldorado (photo:Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0121-500 / CC-BY-SA).

Antoine, however, did not close himself to the world. He traveled a lot, although his travel destinations were mostly places where he could feel at ease as a gay, i.e. Berlin, Athens, Venice, and with time New York and Fire Island located nearby.

The latter was extremely adored by homosexuals who felt very comfortable there. She encouraged the king of hairdressers so much that before the war he bought a magnificent villa there. The ostentatious luxury, however, shocked the locals more than the Romanian prince who was Antoine's lord.

As if that was not enough, Cierplikowski decided to arrange a bathroom outside the villa, completely without a roof and with a tiny door that did not cover much. As if out of spite, he put it on the street side, near the Catholic church. The increasing freedom of Antoine and his guests led to the formation of a morality committee seeking to remove them from the island.

A minor boy who lured one of the gay men to the dunes, the most common place for trysts, was placed. The provocation was successful, but the provocateurs were exposed and ridiculed during the trial. Antoine left the island for a while, and with him disappeared famous and wealthy personalities from the world of fashion, theater and cinema.

After a hurricane ravaged the island in 1938 and locals wrung their hands over a lost period of prosperity, Antoine returned. A compromise was reached:Fire Island split into an eastern part, where homosexuals could settle freely again, and a western - conservative, for families with children.

Antoine with a little boy in front of his mansion.

Thus the first homosexual community in the United States was born , existing until today. Cierplikowski did a great deal for her - he found a place where gays and lesbians could feel completely free and show their feelings in public.

Stereotypical gay barber?

The king of hairdressers is a figure full of contradictions, mysterious and shocking. He believed that life is a theater and that in order to survive in a world of hypocrites and glitz, you must act. He fiercely defended his private life by showing the world the mask of an eccentric sleeping in a glass coffin.

He even shocked with his appearance, because in his time men wore suits, tailcoats and tuxedos, necessarily in dark colors. He broke with this tradition in favor of completely new forms, colors and textures. He wore stocking socks and glass-heeled shoes and chose blue or his beloved white clothes.

Antoine was characterized by exaggerated gestures, a mannered way of speaking and extravagant clothing, which made him the perfect model for the stereotypical gay hairdresser. At the same time, he had something about him that delighted the most beautiful women in the world, but he remained insensitive to their charms. As we read in Marta Orzeszyna's book:

An Antoine like this doesn't have to go all the way to the desert to be free from temptation. This man, who dictates fashion to all women, only admires young men himself.

Also in the photos of Antoine, he was hiding behind a studied pose.

You might think that his friends were only artists and eccentrics, but that's not true. His relatives included, for example, the priest Apolinary Leśniewski, chaplain of the Polish community in Paris, later priest of the Home Army and insurgent Warsaw , and after the war, a parish priest in Sieradz.

When Antoine moved to his hometown of Sieradz, he regularly appeared at church, always wearing heavy makeup and eccentric attire. Has he been criticized and indignant? On the contrary! Father Leśniewski always welcomed him with open arms and was never ashamed of his friendship with a homosexual, did not stigmatize or ridicule his friend.

The Sieradz people, who respected the priest very much, were deeply impressed by his cordial approach to Antoine and at least officially ashamed of showing intolerance to an eccentric barber in his hometown. Especially after the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland awarded the king of hairdressers with the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Certainly, however, for many former neighbors and compatriots he remained a misunderstood figure until the end of his life.


Marta Orzeszyna, Antoine Cierplikowski. King of hairdressers, hairdresser of kings , Znak Horyzont, Krakow 2015.

Editing:Roman Sidorski, photo edition:Roman Sidorski