Famed Acrobat and Fashionista: Who Was Jules Leotard?

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Jules Léotard was born in Toulouse in August 1838.

His father owned a gym and swimming pool where Léotard practised on a trapeze hung over the water.


Despite training to become a lawyer, at 18 Léotard joined Circe Napoléon.

On 12 November Léotard performed his pioneering 12-minute aerial trapeze act for the first time at Circe Napoleon in Paris. It included a somersault in mid-air and a leap from one trapeze to another. The act was a huge hit.

Jules Léotard

In 1861 Léotard travelled to London where he performed at the Alhambra.

He returned to London several times during the 1860s, performing in music halls and pleasure gardens, stunning crowds with acts involving up to five trapezes, with Léotard leaping and somersaulting from one to another.

Such was his star status, his salary was reputed to be £180 a week, a huge £5000 in today’s money.

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The Leotard

Léotard is also famous for another reason. As you may have guessed, he was responsible for inventing the leotard.

Originally a knitted all-in-one garment, it allowed Léotard absolute freedom of movement during his act and also served to showcase his enviable physique, winning him an army of admirers.


Sadly Léotard’s bright career was cut short, he died at 28 of smallpox.

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