A Century of Hair-Raising Style as the Perm Turns 100 | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 08.10.2006
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Culture

A Century of Hair-Raising Style as the Perm Turns 100

A favorite of soccer players and American wrestlers, the perm has gotten a bad rap as a hairstyle choice. But it's still here 100 years after it was created, and many famous people have a German to thank for their curls.

Former Bayern Muncih and Germany soccer star Paul Breitner

Germany's Paul Breitner was the first perm wearer to score in a World Cup final

It would be one of the most star-studded events of the last hundred years if all those who have donned the famous do were to celebrate a century of the perm on Sunday.

The style with bounce and body amazingly turns 100 this weekend, and while there will not be any major festivities in its home nation of Germany, a gathering of all those who have ever been crowned by the permanent wave or dauerwelle would be some party.

Most people would want to be at that hypothetical celebration, where German hairdresser Karl Nessler, the father of the perm, would sit back and look at his crowning glory on the heads of some of history's trendsetters.

The innovator would be overwhelmed by how far his process had come since its first public display back on Oct. 8, 1906.

Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant

For those about to rock: Robert Plant and curls

Not for those like Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant the weighted hot rollers of Nessler's first contraption; a machine, which it should be said, burnt off all the hair and some of the scalp of his first model, the inventor's long-suffering wife Katharina Laible.

Prisoner of war to perm guru

Many famous people have been glad that Nessler was released from captivity by the British after World War I and made it to the shores of the United States, where his technology would really evolve and the perm as a fashion must-have would explode onto the trendiest of scenes.

It was in his adopted New York that the German pioneer really got the chance to tease and please, but as the perm became increasingly popular, the hairdo spread across the globe like Barry Manilow's mane flowing over a velvet chaise longue. The guest list at Nessler's fantasy perm party would be eclectic and international.

David Hasselhoff and wife Pamela

David Hasselhoff's perm earned him many admirers

Nessler would be in some pretty auspicious company as the good and great paid homage to his pioneering follicular technology. No doubt David Hasselhoff would stop him as he cruised the room to offer a hand of thanks for topping the look that made Michael Knight the heartthrob hero of early 1980s television.

The queue to shake the coiffure visionary's hand would have stretched all the way to the complimentary curlers, with the likes of Hollywood stars Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones all lining up to swap teasing tips with the great man himself.

Giving soccer stars the curl

Many would owe Herr Nessler a similar debt of gratitude. Would Rudi Völler have made it to the top of world soccer had he not sported a permed mullet for the entirety of his career and beyond? Would the German World Cup winner have been just another player without that cascading rug of curls providing that extra bounce to his heading ability? One rather doubts it.

Ex-Germany player and coach Rudi Völler

Rudi took the perm to new lengths with his mullet combo

And England's 1970s star Kevin Keegan would possibly have been an expensive flop had he not arrived at SV Hamburg with a perm which looked like it needed an expert in topiary rather than a hairdresser to keep it in check. Those back-to-back European Player of the Year awards would have been a distant dream had Keego decided on short-back-and-sides as the way to go in the Bundesliga.

Once through the masses of soccer stars who have championed the perm, Herr Nessler would surely then be forced to feel the love of the legends of the music world. The stars of 1980s soft rock alone could fill a room, albeit one with more than adequate ventilation and a sturdy fire escape.

Rock royalty with a crown of curls

Rock band Bon Jovi accept an MTV award

Slippery When Wet: Bon Jovi championed curls throughout the 1980s

Parting the likes of Bon Jovi and Europe as Moses did the Red Sea, Nessler would then seek an audience with Madonna, who did much to champion his hairstyle throughout her early career and who helped spawn Kyle Minogue's early look.

Flicking a coiffed look over his shoulder as he sashayed out of his own party, Nessler would be forgiven for shedding a tear or two.

His immortal style may have come and gone and then come back into fashion again; it may have been lauded and ridiculed in equal measure, it may have given the world's wrestlers a reason to live…but after all that, the perm is 100 years old and still with us.

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