THE ART OF WIGS

Words by LIANA SCHAFFNER

Glamour (South Africa) - - Wigs -

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 eect.

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 di‘er­ent 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.”

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