We’re living through a wig renaissance. As runway fashion experiments with style, form and colour, and drag culture explodes from the fringes into mainstream society, there has never been a more exciting time to indulge in the ancient art of wiggery.
We at the Sydney Fringe are privileged then to have had the chance to work alongside Shaun McGrath, internationally recognised hairdresser and wig maker. His designs are bold, striking and unconventional. Often they utilise waste materials, including hair itself, taken directly from the cutting room floor.
Shaun, who has been instrumental in the design of the festival’s creative campaign, was recently made a finalist in the 2017 AIPP Awards in the Avant-Garde Hairdresser of the Year category. It’s no surprise as he fashions incredible towering pieces resembling clusters of wild mushrooms, solid architectural forms, or cascading moss draped over the model’s face. They sit somewhere between wig and headdress, perfect for the catwalk or editorials for fashion magazines.
As part of Sydney Fringe 2017 an interactive exhibition will be launched at Broadway Shopping Centre, showcasing the five wigs Shaun made as part of the official Fringe imagery, as well as another three dazzling wigs commissioned by the centre. We spoke to Shaun about his process, inspiration and the exciting meeting point of art and fashion.
As a creative director of Stevie English Hair you also work a lot as a hairdresser. Have you always been interested in wig design or is that something that developed alongside your other work?
From day one hairdressing for me has been about method and technique, applicable to any fibre of fabric. This creates a lack of boundaries and limits for me as a hairdresser giving me a flexibility of craft that makes anything possible.
Your designs go well beyond the standard lace front into some pretty mind-bending territory. What do you think a good wig should do?
A good wig like "hair" needs to serve its application. People wear wigs for many reasons and a lot are created just to blend in, to hide - others are made to make a statement or become someone different. I create wigs that provoke a reaction, it's simply art for arts sake and that's the application for my work.
What does a standard wig construction process include?
The process sometimes includes a pre-design, but not always. A lot of the time it's the organic nature of the items that I'm using to create the wig which governs where it goes and how it develops, so every wig is different, there are no two the same. I quite frequently learn new techniques to further my work too, ensuring that every build is as much about self education as it is about the wig.
A lot of your wigs use waste and recycled materials. What role do you think sustainability has in the future of fashion?
Fashion has the potential to be an amazing vehicle for the cause of sustainability, garment manufacturers are under more eyes than ever to make sure fashion is becoming sustainable not only in practice but also sustainable in people. We know there is a long way to go but it's moving in the right direction. We can support by how we spend.
Some of your most celebrated wigs gave even used waste hair from your salon. How do you manage to fashion such complex pieces with hair clippings?
If we simplify - hair is just a fibre and fibre makes up just about anything you can imagine. In its simplest form we can create fabrics which can be manipulated in so many different ways. Hair is also an amazing renewable resource (well for most of us) so its supply is endless.
Your exhibition at Broadway shopping centre features eight wigs, Four of which made entirely from objects you found in the centre. What is it about an object that makes you think “that would make a great wig”?
I approach everything as a possibility, but some things are easier than others. So it becomes an equation of:
A) how awesome will it look?
B) how difficult will it be?
C) how much time have I got
If this all balances out, it's worth doing although (A) is very important.
From what forms do you most commonly draw your inspiration?
My two key inspirations tend to be architecture and nature, I look at these as the outside edges of a long string of inspirations. On the furthest edge we have architectural parametric design and on the other is natures decay - nearly everything else falls into that string somewhere there is always something to be inspired by.
A lot of your work has a very sculptural quality. What role do you think visual art plays in the fashion world?
I think for our everyday fashion needs a functionality to it, but it also needs to be inspired which is where haute couture comes into play. This is fashion that doesn't always have that functionality but can definitely inspire and excite our everyday wear, but it's art. If you have a few spare minutes look up Iris Van Herpen.
To what extent do you think fashion and wiggery ought to be beautiful?
I think a lack of beautiful is often where Avant Garde goes wrong. Beautiful can take so many different forms we need to create an aesthetic that takes us somewhere. Often for me it's into the dark, our visual minor key. But with our wigs for Fringe and Broadway it's all about fun, beautiful fun.
Where do you hope your wig designs will take you professionally?
To a shack on the beach somewhere.
Slightly Longer answer:
I love what I'm doing now, a combination of in salon hairdressing and Corporate Wiggery, each is always inspiration for the other, I'm in a happy place.
Written by Michael Kennedy