Prior to the modern era of hair care products when organic hair care was by definition the norm, how your hair would look and feel would largely depend on the barber or hairdresser you went to.
However, one of the most famous barbers in London had a conditioning product so popular that it was not only one of the first hair care products that left the hands of local specialists but also was one of the first products in England to be advertised throughout the country.
Alexander Rowland, like many barbers of his era, would create his own hair preparation known as Macassar oil, named for the eponymous ebony tree and also known as kayu hitam in its native Indonesia.
The compound, mixed with a few other ingredients including rose oil, lemon and neroli, created a thick oil that helped give the hair a shimmer and a shine.
It became exceptionally popular within two decades of its debut in Mr Rowland’s barbershop in 1793, although as Macassar ebony would become overharvest, its signature ingredient was replaced with coconut or palm oil by other barbers.
It became quickly popular with celebrity poets of the day, with one of Lord Byron’s most famous passages in the poem Don Juan describing Macassar in somewhat characteristically facetious terms as the closest object on Earth to the divine. It would also be mentioned in Through The Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.
Whilst influencing poets, it would also influence interior design. As it was primarily made from coconut oil, it had a habit of soaking into the backs of chairs as it dried, leaving difficult-to-remove stains.
The solution was a small piece of cloth known as an antimacassar, which is sometimes still seen today on traditionally styled furniture as a way to protect the upholstery, as it could easily be removed and cleaned later.