The clowns are instantly identified by their signature red noses. A classic clown costume is incomplete without a red nose. But have you ever wondered how did the red nose become such an integral part of the clown getup?
The history of the red nose of a clown can be traced back to three brothers, Paul, François, and Albert, belonging to a circus family. The Fratellinis were well-known for their performances. The head of the family was a trapeze artist, named Gustavo. His three sons put on a very popular act of clowns.
After the death of Louis, Paul’s partner, the trio took on a unique style to personify the clown. François was a white-faced elegant yet pompous clown while Albert went for an exaggerated look featuring dark eyebrows and a red nose. Paul adopted a look between the two featuring much less makeup.
Since then, the Auguste clown has become a unique character. He is generally the joker, an oddball wearing shapeless clothes and bearing exaggerated features, complete with a bright red nose. It is said the Auguste character was developed with the help of one of the most amazing clowns in the human history.
After the WWI, Lou Jacobs staged the famous clown act with the Ringling Bors. And Barnum & Bailey Circus. He went on to perform this role for around six decades. The New York Times obituary of the celebrated entertainer said:
“Mr. Jacobs’s whiteface makeup with its gargantuan, goofy smile, outlandish eyebrows and the plum-sized nose was the emblem for the Ringling circus, and he may have been the world’s most famous living clown.”
In 1966, Jacob became one of the first living persons to appear on the postage stamp, in his complete costume including the red nose!
Another legend goes way back than the Jacob or even the Fratellini. It is said that in 1860, a poor German circus performer dressed in ill-fitting clothes was accidently driven into the show ring. Apparently, he fell and blood sprout from his nose, giving it a vibrant red colour. Oblivious to his embarrassment, the crowd chanted ‘Auguste’- a word used in German slang for a fool! And thus, the signature red nose of the clown was born.
The German story is more of a legend than the actual incident. Nonetheless, the exact origin of the red nose of the clown remains shrouded in mystery.