THE ART OF WIGS
Words by LIANA SCHAFFNER
Picasso painted with oils. Michelangelo sculpted with clay. These artists are creating masterpieces, one strand at a time. We explore the world of high-end, fantastical, hang-themin-a-museum wigs.
In 2013, hairstylist Darnell Wold began the intricate process of building a wig from scratch. He wove natural hair to a lace cap using a small needle and stitched individual strands at the hairline to achieve a realistic eect.
He snapped a photograph of his design while it was still a work in progress and posted it to Instagram (@hairhegoes), hoping to coax casual feedback from friends and clients. The next morning, he glanced at his phone and couldn’t believe what he saw. “There were thousands of followers on my feed enquiring about this wig and trying to place an order,” he says. “I knew people liked wigs, but I never understood the extent of it until that moment.” These days, wigs are everywhere: they crown the heads of celebrities and influencers on red carpets and at music festivals, while images of candy-coloured bobs seem to multiply like sugar crystals on social media. But the truth is, our obsession with wigs has always been present – it just had a tight cap over it.
Sensing a new trend and encouraged by his overnight success, Darnell began designing custom-made wigs (“It was just me in a room full of hair for four years.”) before launching his own line, Powder Room D. Celebrities took notice and requested pieces, but it was a collaboration with singer-songwriter Kehlani that moved his artistry to the next level – and signalled a shift in the world of wigmaking.
“Kehlani was really awesome and honest about wearing wigs, and she came right out and gave me credit,” says Darnell. “That was a first. Now clients mention me all the time on social media. It’s become the cool thing for celebrities to admit to wearing wigs.”
With celebs like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Kylie Jenner and Lady Gaga wearing dramatic hairstyles and surreal colours, wigs have finally begun to shed their secretive air. “These women aren’t trying to pretend that all of the hair we see on their heads is their own,” says Hadiiya Barbel, owner of a wig studio. “And because they’re being real about it, they’ve removed the stigma from wigs. Before, the perception was that if you were wearing a wig, it was because you had something to hide. Now the opposite is true. A wig is a form of selfexpression. It’s empowering. That’s why I call wigs crowns.”
For the wig enthusiast, the goal isn’t to avoid detection, but rather to go viral. A wig, emblazoned on our brains.
That’s not to say we’re reverting to the aesthetic of 18th-century French queen Marie Antoinette, who favoured over-the-top, proudly impractical creations. Back then wigs were high and restrictive, to telegraph wealth and status (only those who never had to lift a finger could wear such styles). In stark contrast, even the most dramatic wigs of the moment still look, feel, move and frame the face like natural hair. “Even fantasy hair has to look believable or no one will want to wear it,” says Hadiiya, who admits that new technology, social media and a profusion of cameras have raised the bar, creating a demand for high-quality wigs and better installation methods. You can’t get away with a sloppy hairline. ➻
“even the most dr amatic wigs of the moment still look , feel, move and frame the face like natural hair.”
“The wig needs to look like it’s growing out of the scalp and stay put,” adds Hadiiya, who, to demonstrate how reliable a well-crafted wig can be, hosts parties at her studio, inviting women to eat, drink and dance in her designs.
“Once they step into that life and they realise the wig isn’t going anywhere, they become transformed with confidence,” she says.
The most obvious expert to make a wig into something beautiful and believable is, of course, a hairstylist. But hairstylists and salon owners have only recently begun to learn the centuries-old craft of custom wigmaking – a trade that, for decades, has mostly belonged to artisans in theatre, film and religious communities. “I tried for years to find a good wigmaker,” says wig designer Shay Ashual. “In the ’ 90s, I came across one place that made lace fronts, and it catered to people with hair loss. The wigs were scratchy and poorly constructed. I realised that if I wanted a good wig, I’d have to make it myself.”
Shay now creates dreamy looks for editorial shoots and ad campaigns. His wigs aren’t for sale, but other experts have followed suit and taken matters into their own hands, creating better options in the process. “I honestly believe that the hairstylists who have started making wigs have normalised the trend,” says Darnell, who worked as a hairstylist for 12 years before entering the wig industry. “We’re applying classic cutting techniques and cool colours to wigs, so the styles feel real and exciting.”
Kim Kimble, stylist to Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Shakira, says, “Wigs are one of the main things we do at the salon. We’ll cut, colour, make, create and build a wig for you right here.” Kim views the current wig craze as an opportunity for women to play with dierent lengths, colours and textures without damaging their hair. “You can change your hair like you change your clothes,” she says. “Your face and your hair are the first thing people see. So I’d say it’s important to invest in a good wig, and have it properly styled and fitted.”
Wig owners have become discerning consumers, able to recognise the marks of a well-constructed wig – and even define the stamp of its creator.
“Before, a lot of brands were just making long and silky wigs,” he says. “Now it’s a billion-dollar industry, and we can insist that every texture is represented. If you want to sport a wig, you should be able to find one that’s curly as well as sleek.”
In this respect, some experts see wigs as the next logical step in the natural-hair movement, allowing women to change looks without chemically altering their texture.
“I think the fact that wigs have become more mainstream is good for everybody,” says Kim. “As a stylist, it means I can really take care of the client’s hair underneath. If you love natural hair, wear it. If you love straight hair, wear it. If you love teal hair, wear it. If it looks hot, wear it. Having options is powerful.”
Shay also recalls a time when he wasn’t allowed to bring wigs on set. “The connotation of wigs was so negative that no one would even consider the suggestion,” he says. “I had to kind of sneak them in.” And now? Shay laughs. “No one’s complaining.”
“Wig owners have become discerning consumers, able to recognise the marks of a well- constructed wig.”