Momentous times require momentous moustaches.
Look at Hitler and Chamberlain.
And Einstein. And Groucho Marx.
I have had occasion, over the last 24 hours, to investigate some of the most outrageous coiffure the upper lip ever known to mankind.
From world famous leaders to nobodies requiring a little status, men- and the occasional woman – have used moustaches to create an unforgettable persona.
The Eastern Europeans are very good at statement lipwear, day in, day out. It’s all very well bringing a Gilliamesque showpiece ‘tache out for a special occasion: but you’ve got to admire a revolutionary who sports a piece of face sculpture, day in, day out.
Take Panayot Hitov, a fiery Bulgarian revolutionary and leader of several key bands in the mid to late 19th century.
At thirty years old he became leader of one of the most significant bands of revolutionaries against the Ottoman Empire based in south eastern Bulgaria. He was feared and respected in equal measure, a charismatic figure to be reckoned with, a leader, soldier and politician.
And what a moustache he sported. Stretching like a pair of handlebars out past the parameters of his head and way out yonder, so that from behind, two pointed protrusions showed as he walked. Powerful man. Powerful moustache.
One of the most chilling moustaches of all time sat on the lip of a fascist speaker whose attempt at world domination met its end ignominiously in a bunker in Berlin.
But there’s a prequel to that moustache: and it comes from a writer who died in 1957.
It reveals that the origin of Adolf Hitler’s trademark ‘toothbrush’ might be not a fashion choice: but ignominiously utilitarian.
Alexander Moritz Frey was a private who served alongside Hitler in the Bavarian light infantry division during the first world war: and with the publication of his biography in 2007, an essay came to light which had lain unnoticed for half a century.
When he first met Hitler in 1915, he did not warm to him. An article from The Telegraph covering the revelations quotes Frey:
“A pale, tall man tumbled down into the cellar after the first shells of the daily evening attacks had begun to fall, fear and rage glowing in his eyes,” he writes.
“At that time he looked tall because he was so thin. A full moustache, which had to be trimmed later because of the new gas masks, covered the ugly slit of his mouth.”
Photographs bear it out: HItler had a very full Prussian moustache, right up until the moment his army superiors ordered him to clip it short to fit under the regulation gas masks, so he would be protected form British mustard gas.
From the utilitarian to the ridiculous: how could we leave out Senior Dali and the nexus of his self expression?
This grandiose surrealist Spanish artist of the twentieth century gave his moustache a life of its own. It was, often, his art. It fuelled his theatrical exhibitionism; it was the most extreme form of Dali’s incorrigible attention seeking.
So much so that he and friend Philippe Halsman published a book in 1954 called ‘Dali’s Mustache’.
It was crammed with images of the face-sculpture, accompanied with anecdotes and snatches of Dali’s singular philosophy: on one page:”Why do you wear a moustache?” And Dali’s wry response: “In order to pass unobserved.”
One day Stravinsky and his wife were walking along the corridor of an upmarket New York hotel when they came upon Dali. And he was carrying a little silver bell.
“Bonjour, Igor!”, he exclaimed: and “Bonjour, Madame!”
There was a pregnant pause while the composer and his wife smiled politely and said nothing: then they made as if to move on.
But Dali couldn’t have that. He rang his little bell.
Stravinsky did the polite thing. He did what was expected of him; he enquired politely: “What is that little silver bell you are carrying?”
Delighted, the Spanish exhibitionist delivered his punchline: I carry and ring it”, he said, “so that people will notice my moustache.”
My husband carries no bell. But this morning, as we returned from a very nice Sunday lunch at my parent’s house, I noticed a shadow over his upper lip.
On enquiry I was informed that this is his contribution to Movember: and that it is more than just a few-days wonder. Together with a group of colleagues from work, he is growing a moustache not for utility, nor exhibitionism, but for charity: specifically,research into Non Hodgkins Lymphoma.
I’m not thrilled.
Moustaches are scratchy.
But who was it said: momentous times require momentous moustaches?