A Permanent-Waving Hairdressing Salon Machine by Eugene Ltd. c.1930

Origin: English
Period: Early/Mid 20thC
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1930
Height: 65” or 54” lowered
Width: 22.5”
Depth: 22.5”

The tubular metal and steel permanent wave machine in black paint, with an art deco inspired pedestal column to tripod legs with wheels to avoid pick-up of hair from the salon floor, the adjustable central pole to a chandelier type ring with a myriad of Bakelite clamp attachments, the base with makers name for Eugene Ltd, switches and plaque, the whole surviving from early 1930s England.

The condition of the lamp is simply as found, we have not cleaned or re-arranged the wiring, simply delighting in its abandoned aura.

The first person to produce a practical thermal method was Marcel Grateau in 1872. By 1930, the process of permanent-waving was well established and its importance can be gauged if one considers that the majority of middle-class women, at a rough estimate, had their hair set once a week and permed perhaps once every three months as new hair replaced the waved hair.

Eugene Suter was a Swiss immigrant who set up a fashionable ladies' salon in London's West End. He claimed to have come from Paris, which in those days was the center of fashion and style. He became aware of the possibilities of electrical permanent waving particularly when shorter hair allowed the design of smaller equipment. The system had two parts; one was the electric heater and the other was the system of winding and holding the hair on a form which was inserted into a heater. Sutter tried to design a heater, but was unsuccessful.

Isidoro Calvete was a Spanish immigrant who set up a workshop for the repair and manufacture of electrical equipment in the same area of London in 1917. This equipment was just coming into use for the hairdressing and medical professions. Sutter consulted him on the heater and Calvete designed a practical model consisting of two windings inserted into an aluminium tube. This ensured that when inserted over a root winding, the thicker hair nearer to the root became hotter than the thinner hair at the end. Sutter patented the design in his own name and for the next 12 years ordered all his hairdressing equipment from Calvete but marketed under his commercial name, Eugene Ltd, which became synonymous with permanent waving throughout the world.

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, all production of such equipment stopped in Europe and hardly recovered afterwards, being replaced either by home heater kits or cold-waving methods. Eugene Ltd finally turned in to Suter Electrical in the 1970’s which in 1995 became REM the name everybody knows for fine salon furniture and equipment.

The chandelier-style machines may have been effective, but their aesthetics were a bit much for some. In his 1936 book Keep Your Hair On: The Care of the Hair and Scalp, Oscar Levin referred to the permanent wave machine as a “terrifying apparatus.”

We see this obsolete piece of equipment as a sculpture; simply stand in a corner of a room and watch it change the dynamic.