|Subject: Marc deCoster, better known as a celebrity hairdresser, died in 2012 at age 81
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Date Posted: Monday, February 15, 11:16:37am
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Marc deCoster, Hairdresser to Members of High Society, Dies at 81
The New York Times
By Douglas Martin
July 28, 2012
The prize was the chestnut-brown, honey-flecked coif of Nancy Reagan. Monsieur Marc, hairdresser to Manhattan society, had arrived in Washington days before the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan to offer his services to the incoming first lady, a longtime client. But Mr. Julius of Beverly Hills, also hairdresser to Mrs. Reagan and Marilyn Monroe before her, was already there.
“Everybody thought we were going to get into a fight with the scissors,” Monsieur Marc, whose actual name was Marc deCoster, told People magazine. Instead, they met at the Jockey Club for an unpleasant, unsuccessful rapprochement. Mrs. Reagan ultimately let both men do her hair — while also engaging the services of a Washington hairdresser, Robin Weir.
Monsieur Marc and Mr. Julius both showed up again at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana six months later. The rivalry became snippier, with Mr. Julius (Julius B. Bengtsson, who died in 1995) suggesting that his competitor made the first lady look like a poodle.
Appearing to strive for higher ground, Monsieur Marc replied, “I am not jealous that another man touches her.”
Mr. deCoster died on Tuesday in Manhattan at 81. His wife, Deborah Gainer-deCoster, said he had had various kinds of cancer.
Women often see their hairdressers as more than tonsorial technicians. They can be friends, father confessors, sorcerers of beauty and gossipmeisters extraordinaire. “Society today is sitting next to your hairdresser at dinner,” the columnist Liz Smith wrote in The Daily News in 1983.
Mr. deCoster’s appeal owed much to his savoir faire. Superb hairstyles should be accompanied by a veil, he said, because “there’s nothing more romantic than removing a veil for a kiss.”
So it was that the socialite and fashion pacesetter Barbara Paley, known as Babe, became a devoted client, even signing up her husband, William S. Paley, head of CBS, for haircuts. (Monsieur Marc visited him.) The hairdresser said he told Mrs. Paley, “The dream of my life is to put my hands in your hair.”
She passed word to her high-society friends, and soon baronesses, heiresses and tycoons’ wives were streaming to his Upper East Side salon. He invited some to his home for intimate dinners. Clients invited him to Palm Beach for a week or two. Husbands took him big-game hunting.
Betsy Bloomingdale, wife of Alfred S. Bloomingdale, heir to the department store chain, ended her first appointment with Mr. deCoster by smiling and saying: “Today we have just met. The next time we will get engaged. Maybe someday we will be married.”
The following day, she phoned from Los Angeles to tell him to forget the engagement. “We’re married,” she said. She told her friend Mrs. Reagan about her find.
In 2004, when Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president at the time, needed a makeover, Mr. deCoster flew to Boston to do it. In 1984, he was on hand at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco to enhance the look of Geraldine A. Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated for the vice presidency by a major party.
Marcel Henri Louis deCoster was born above his parents’ grocery store in Brussels on Feb. 15, 1931. His father vanished after being deported by occupying Germans in World War II.
He gave up on the idea of being a doctor because, he said, blood made him sick. His sisters prevailed upon him to style their hair, and he apprenticed at the Roget Salon, one of Brussels’s most prestigious. A recommendation led to his being hired by Guillaume, a premier Paris hairdresser. Visiting American socialites begged him to come to New York.
He warmed to the idea when Guillaume took him there to assist at a Christian Dior fashion show at the Waldorf-Astoria. In 1957, he moved to Manhattan, where he first worked for a stylist named Marcel; he shortened his name to Marc to distinguish himself. Women threw themselves and their wallets at him, said Marylin Bender, a former reporter and editor at The New York Times who helped him write the memoir “Nouveau Is Better Than No Riche at All” (1983).One admirer, unbeknown to her husband, gave Mr. deCoster money to open his own salon at Madison Avenue and 65th Street in 1962, Ms. Bender said.
He chose the moniker Monsieur Marc to evoke French elegance and American informality. Mr. deCoster himself was distinguished looking, with his Van Dyke beard and impeccable dress. William F. Buckley Jr. once mistook him for a French ambassador. The wife of a United Nations ambassador complained that an uneducated son of grocers had more social mobility than she.
Monsieur Marc lost his 65th Street lease in the late 1980s and moved his shop 11 blocks north to the Carlyle Hotel, where it remained until he retired in 1998. He then cut a mane or two for old time’s sake, never charging. “His ladies were his oxygen,” his wife said.
Besides his wife, Mr. deCoster, who had homes in Manhattan and Ulster County, N.Y., is survived by his sister, Henriette Stroobants. He and Ms. Gainer married in 2006, after being together for 28 years.
“In his head, maybe he wanted to be a bachelor to all his clients,” she said.
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