Combing stories | Beyond aesthetics: hair as an art form


Hair styling is a craft, but could it be considered art? If intention and mastery are added, I am convinced that it is. By definition, art is an activity in which the human being recreates, with an aesthetic purpose, an aspect of reality or a feeling in beautiful forms using matter, image or sound. Thus, it is possible to create art with hair, as with any other material.

“Hair is a living art, as broad, vast and varied as the people who wear it in any conceivable style,” says legendary hairstylist Laurent Phillippon in his book Hair: Fashion & Fantasy (Thames & Hudson, 2013). Hairdressing is part of the way we beautify ourselves. History has witnessed a large number of different styles. The hairstyle is a genuine art form: it symbolizes our transition from scruffy barbarians to civilized social beings. We are the only animals on the planet that give so much care and attention to our hair.”

In an essay for the same work, Professor Claudine Roméo even compares the work of the stylist with that of the sculptor, exalting it: “The stylist, more than the sculptor, has to reshape the raw material, reconstitute it as a single, compact mass. and release at the same time.

Hair as an artistic manifestation has always existed. African tribes have carried all kinds of coded messages in their braids, providing information, sometimes in a beautiful and poetic way, about the person who wears them. And in the Roman Empire, women competed with each other to create ever more inventive and sophisticated buns to attract male attention.

In the 18th century, the master hairdresser Léonard Autié was the first famous hairdresser in history. He was in charge of sculpting the hair of the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. The monarch used some artificial hairpieces (poufs) that were made on a frame filled with horsehair or other materials, and decorated with the greatest extravagances. They were called coiffure au sentiment, since the decoration had to have a special meaning for its wearer. This implied that they could be crowned with a caged bird or a reproduction of a country house.

In the 19th century, during the Victorian era, mourning became a part of English culture, with high death rates and Queen Victoria herself mourning the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. Back then, craft magazines and some women’s books used to include patterns, ideas, and steps to knit. jewelry or decoration pieces with human hair, taken from a body that had already concluded its life cycle. In addition, the threads were pulverized to create a kind of pigment and paint mournful scenes, which were carried in a reliquary near the heart.

Work of art with hair of a deceased made in the Victorian era
From the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley, this piece is an exemplary piece of Victorian-era hair art. Credit: Alan Kolc/College of Physicians of Philadelphia/Mütter Museum.

In the 20th century, with the rise of editorial photography, magazines began to do editorials to show an experimental side of beauty. Talented stylists and makeup artists collaborate with teams of creative directors, photographers, fashion coordinators, and more to compose visual stories.

Hair acquired a surreal character with the vision of masters—artists rather than hairdressers—who projected it, for example, as a crown, a bouquet of flowers, or a leaf covering a naked torso. Ara Gallant, Alexandre de Paris, Julien d’Ys, Orlando Pita, Yannick d’Is, Sam McKnight and Laurent Philippon are some of the greats who have contributed to making hairdressing a valid expression of art.

Basket-woven hair sculpture by Shoplifter for Björk's Medúlla album
With an editorial edge, Shoplifter’s most famous piece is ‘Human Hair Sculptress’, a basket-woven hair sculpture that the artist dreamed up for the cover of Björk’s ‘Medúlla’ album in 2004. Credit: Inez van Lamsweerde.

In recent years, Instagram has become the showcase for artist-activists like Laetitia Ky (@laetitiaky), who conveys powerful messages through sculptures made from her own hair, inspired by the creations of her African ancestors in pre-colonial times. Often, her content includes a feminist discourse, for example, questioning what it means to be a woman or defending the right to motherhood by choice.

Laetita Ky models a hair sculpture against breast ironing
Laetita Ky uses her hair to create sculptures, tied to her body, with social and political discourses. Here, she speaks out against breast ironing in Africa. Credit:

On the other hand, some colorists have used hair as a canvas on which they literally paint elaborate designs, ranging from caricatures to landscapes. Artists work with fingers, brushes, stencils, or sprays, depending on the project and their own technique. Follow Alexis Ferrer (@alexisferrer), Jackie Bieber (@madebyjackiebieber) or Janina Zais (@janinazais) to inspire you.

Combing stories | Beyond aesthetics: hair as an art form
For his ‘La Favourite’ collection, colourist Alexis Ferrer drew on palace gardens in 18th century France. These, in turn, inspired couturiers to create the best fabrics for the bourgeoisie. Credit: Rafael Andreu.

Other contemporary artists prefer the performance, also called action art. Danié Gómez-Ortigoza (@journeyofabraid) is a multimedia artist who works with rituals that explore hair as a social construct and a form of communication. She believes in the power of braiding with intention and drawing the invisible thread that entwines us in synchronicity and community.

Hair (natural and artificial) is a recurring material in the work of the veteran Shoplifter (@shoplifterart), both for its visual and stylistic possibilities and for its symbolic associations. For her, hair borders on the grotesque and the beautiful. In her most notable installation yet, Chromo Sapiens (2020), used colored hair extensions to create a multi-sensory environment, set to music by HAM. “A journey to the center of a new hypernatural world”, in his own words.

Combing stories | Beyond aesthetics: hair as an art form
Hair art is a constant in the career of artist Shoplifter. For her ‘Chromo Sapiens’ installation, she created a multi-sensory environment with colored wigs. Credit: Shoplifter.

As you can see, beyond aesthetics, hair is a medium for art. “I consider a hair to be like a line on a piece of paper,” said Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, the woman behind the pseudonym Shoplifter, in an interview for INFRINGE magazine. “I don’t see the need to completely separate art, fashion, design and craft; I like that there can be gray areas. More and more people work in these gray areas.” So, here’s to the gray areas!

The post Combing stories | Beyond aesthetics: hair as an art form appeared first on All Things Hair Mexico.


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