Beautician who built the beehive

NEW YORK • Chicago beautician Margaret Vinci Heldt, who created the sky-scraping hairdo known as the beehive in 1960, died last Friday in Elmhurst, Illinois. She was 98.

The cause was heart failure, her daughter Carlene Ziegler said.

The beehive, in which the hair is back-combed for volume, piled on top of the head and neatly wrapped like a package, sometimes with tendrils flowing down as well, was a style designed to give women height and suggest elegance. It was a departure from the bouffant and other more flattened styles of the 1950s.

Made possible, like the puffy, rounded bouffant, by the liberal application of a postwar beauty innovation - hair spray from an aerosol can - the beehive made its first appearance in February 1960 in the pages of the trade publication Modern Beauty Shop.

Its immediate popularity was fanned by the popular celebrities who adopted it, including singers Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and the Ronettes, and actresses Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn. Fans of Mad Men, the recent television series set in the advertising world of the 1960s, will recall the beehive as a distinct feature of office fashion.

A remarkably durable style over the ensuing decades, the beehive and its variants have remained pointed and often creative fashion statements - the rock band the B-52s and the singer Amy Winehouse made it a signature - especially prominent on formal or glamorous occasions, including on the red carpet and in other places where paparazzi gather.

Such contemporary fashion plates as actress Penelope Cruz and singers Beyonce and Adele have appeared beneath the carefully constructed descendants of Heldt's original invention.

And a construction it was from the beginning.

One reason for its initial popularity was that hairspray held it in place for days at a time. In a 2011 interview with the British newspaper The Daily Mail, Ms Heldt said: "I used to tell my clients, 'I don't care what your husband does from the neck down, but I don't want them to touch you from the neck up.'"

She was already a hairstyling celebrity when she devised her most famous creation. She had won a 1954 competition for national hairdresser of the year and her salon on North Michigan Avenue, Margaret Vinci Coiffures, was influential locally. She contributed regular hair designs to Modern Beauty Shop (now Modern Salon), whose editors, as the 1950s came to a close, were seeking a look for the new decade.

Ms Heldt said her initial work on her favourite mannequin involved a circular wrapping of the hair on top of the head. Then she moved to a live model and continued to toy with it. She said: "It was getting really cute."

It was a hat - a black fez-like cap she loved - whose shape inspired the key architectural element.

"I always would look at that little hat and say, 'Someday, I'm going to create a hairstyle that would fit under the hat and, when you take the hat off, the hairstyle would be there'," she said.

Ms Michela Theresa Vinci was born in Chicago. Her parents were Italian immigrants - her father made wine barrels. When she was six or seven, she asked her parents to change her name to Margaret and they did - legally, Ms Ziegler said - because all her friends were calling her Maggie instead of Mickey and her teachers assumed her name was Margaret.

She loved fixing hair from early in her childhood. After high school, she went to cosmetology school and she became a licensed cosmetologist in 1937. Her salon on Michigan Avenue was in business through the 1950s and 1960s.

She married Mr Carl Ludwig Heldt, a machinist, in 1942. He died in 1998. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son.

Ms Heldt did not name her most famous creation.

The final touch in her original design was a pin from the hat that she added to the model's hair. The pin happened to be in the shape of a bee and struck her as the perfect accessory.

As she recalled, it was a writer for the magazine who exclaimed: "Margaret, it looks just like a beehive. Do you mind if we call it the beehive?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Beautician who built the beehive'. Print Edition | Subscribe