Shaun McGrath: Witchcraft & Wiggery
“It took me a long time to convince the hairdressing industry as a whole that what I am doing is hairdressing.”
The team here at Destroy The Hairdresser has been a fan of McGrath’s work since we first saw the feathered antler wig he created for The Wing Assignment Project. This February, we celebrate the idea of hybrid, and no one is a better example of living this concept than McGrath through his company, Wiggery. McGrath and his beautiful wife and photographer, Clare Marshall, shot his most recent project, the meat wig. McGrath apologizes to any vegan fans out there who may take offense to this work. But let’s face it, Lady Gaga did it and we forgave her. ‘Nuff said.
McGrath was visiting his parents in New South Wales when we were speaking. It was 9am his time and 4pm my time. I could see the sun shining on a beautiful lawn of fresh grass and large tropical foliage. Birds were chirping and happy to be living anywhere but New York. When I looked out my iced-over window at what was left of Brooklyn, the opposite was true. It was dark and daunting with snow clouds rolling in. The sun had been gone for days, and the temperature was in the tens. We discussed hair in New York vs. hair in New South Whales. We had a good laugh regarding the quality, or lack thereof, of the hair in his parents’ hometown.
“I couldn't do hair here. I walked into a shopping mall the day after I got here and, ya know, I remember the central coast of Australia being bad [about hair], but I don’t remember it being this bad. A lot of it is due to the fact that I have kind of moved up in the world and what I expect hairdressing to be, so I was absolutely mortified. Walking through a shopping mall for a couple of hours, you're going to see a couple thousand people. I saw two people where I thought to myself ‘okay, well, that is well executed’ and one of them was just naturally beautiful. Curly, bouncy, salty hair—she had probably just been to the beach that morning—but it looked cool, it looked natural, it looked great. The other one was a bob. Yeah, it was a little hard around the edges, something I don’t really like, but you could see that it was well executed. Now, when you are talking about seeing a couple thousand people and only seeing, realistically, one good haircut and the other one sort of letting it naturally do its own thing, that’s a really awful strike right there for local hairdressers. I put a post on Facebook when I got back about how dreadful it was and I've got a lot of good friends up here, so hopefully they don't disown me [for saying this].”
Though our Skype connection was glitchy, our conversation flowed naturally, transitioning from topic to topic. McGrath has truly become this bi-medial hairdresser by combining hairdressing with art to create something new. We agreed that the future of hairdressing is expanding upon and exploring other realms of art.
“It’s about experimenting with hairdressing. Is there anything out there, anything that hasn't already been done? I don’t think so. I think that if you are going to advance and move forward and create something new—even if we are talking about the traditional medium of hair —we can sort of go forward and look at that; we need to start looking outside our own industry.”
McGrath has a composite aesthetic that includes drawing inspiration and materials from construction. Concrete, wood, steel, metal, organics, even glass have gone into his wigs. The future of hairdressing is expanding upon and exploring other realms of art. He spoke a lot about how exploring these different mediums within hair has enhanced his skill as a hairdresser.
“Every time I make a wig, I become a better hairdresser. Every time I cut a head of hair, I become a better wig maker. They are so part and parcel for me, they are always together. I mean, one of the best kind of references I can give you for that is when I was making hairstyles out of glass. It’s one shape, it doesn't move, and it can put you in the hospital. The really interesting thing is that when you spend two days working on a piece that’s made out of glass and trying to manipulate shape into glass, you come back to hair and hair has this simplicity to it. You can move it, you can bend it, change its shape, and you can use product to manipulate it. And so each time I do something that is really difficult on the wig form, I come back to hairdressing and hairdressing seems simpler. I’m starting to take those concepts out of Wiggery and bring them back to hair and that’s happening more and more now.”
The importance of PR and marketing came up. We talked about how in our industry you must grab people’s attention—really show them what you are made of, show them what you can produce.
“I go out, build a wig out of coins, shoot it, get it published in a few places, and people will look at that more so than they will look at something that I do, such as a big, bouncy blow dry. Even though I can execute that very well, so can everyone else; it needs to be a little bit funny. It needs to be educational and it needs to be intimate.”
We talked about the start of inspiration. When a hairdresser really gets his or her hands dirty with exploration and finds their passion. We talked about those projects that really just start it all.
“I guess my first time I completely covered a head was very, very early. When I started as a first year in Sydney, there was this one picture of me doing a girl’s head in clay. I ran a braid from the back, ran it forward straight down the front of her face, and sort of built in this blue clay. It was somewhat reptile-ish. Yes, I covered this poor girl in blue clay, she was blue for a week, but I think that was the start point. And it definitely became more and more refined. I look at things as simply as possible; I try not to create myself headaches. I know a lot of avant-garde is people trying to create themselves headaches.”
McGrath spent some time in London working in an arena that supported his creative genius. After finishing his stay in London, he was heading back to Australia for the second phase of his new career. This forced him to have to say goodbye to certain creations he had constructed.
“That glass wig I ended up trashing before I left London. It just did not have the stability to make it in a boat back to Australia, so I just threw that one in the bin.”
Not only did McGrath have to give up the glass wig due to his move, but the feathered antlers (one of our favorites) had to be tossed, as well. Trying to get treated feathers back through customs just didn’t seem feasible due to the concern of feathers harboring disease. Though he had to let go of some of his pieces, McGrath takes satisfaction in the fact he has pushed the limits of hair.
“People like yourself, like me, are always going to be wanting to push the boundaries and do something new that won’t necessarily work in the chair. There are tricks that I use as a session stylist that I always use in the chair. I find it absolutely berserk that more people don’t.”
I shared with him my idea of hairstylists being on this precipice. Hair professionals are being viewed as much more intelligent. They are looked at as a huge enterprise nowadays, and they are now considered fashion icons more than they used to be. I wanted to know what he thought this was going to do to the industry, and what our future looks like through his lens.
“I think what we are seeing now in hairdressing is a good representation of what we are going to see going forward. Over the last, let’s say, 70 [or] 80 years, that’s, pretty much, where our hairdressing now has come from. Not too much was happening before then. Yeah, sure, people were cutting hair, but they weren’t really cutting hair. It was more a practicality than it was a skilled artistry. But people are wearing more of what suits them, and I think that has a lot do with the hairdresser, ourselves, saying ‘okay, yes, everyone is wearing a long bob at the moment, but that’s going to make you look weird, so we are going to do something else.’ I think more and more people listen to their stylists as opposed to listening to what VOGUE is telling them. I think that’s important; I think that’s good for us. It means that we are not going through another period of cutting Jennifer Aniston cuts all day. I think the future is what actually suits a woman, what suits a man. And it will sort of vary from salon to salon as there become more salons with an identity.”
What about the people in the salons vs. session styling? Are we heading toward more salon work or more session work?
“I do think we are going to be in salons. There is always going to be demand for a hairdresser. There will be a few of us, like yourself, in education and things like that, and me going off and doing berserk things that come to me in a weird dream—we are going to continue to do that kind of thing. Is the money in editorial? No. That whole thing, sort of late ‘80s/early ‘90s, was the peak for the session stylist. Ya know, that’s where the money was. The money is not there anymore. I don't do what I do for the money, because it makes bugger all. I think our future is in the salon, I really do. I don’t think that will be lost. I think we need the salon to get a profile, unless we have done other stuff that you can look at and see stands up on its own. Especially new stylists, they need a salon; they need something around them that is already established with magazines, with press, in order to make that jump as an independent stylist.”
More important than knowing how to do a five strand braid is the narrative. In editorial environments, every element must tell a story, the same story. When working with mediums not traditionally used, when speaking of hair, there is an element of discomfort, but it can enhance the narrative and enhance us as professionals.
“I’m an ADD kid with dyslexia, ya know, classic kind of hairdresser, and I really like having a picture tell a story as opposed to words. I find myself in a very funny position nowadays because I write words and it’s not something that comes naturally to me. What comes naturally to me is talking about hair and being enthusiastic about what I am doing and what other people are doing. So, I think that’s why it works, not because I'm a great writer, because I'm not. It works because I'm passionate about what I am doing and what you are doing and the rest of the people around us, and I think that’s important as a voice.”
We spoke about creation and destruction, innovation and classic, and how thinking as a wig designer allowed him to grow, yet again, as a hairstylist. He told me about his wig he built out of coins. How creating it required a bit of engineering and not only did he have to create a wig piece, he also had to create a structure that held up against heavier materials.
“When I’m doing something that weighs up over ten kilo, once things start getting really heavy, I will generally use a variation of the argyle frame. I brought that [structure] into [hairdressing]. When I first built it, it was a couple Christmases ago, I sort of just sat there and thought ‘okay, I need to produce something that is going to hold an immense amount of weight.’ I knew it was going to be really, really heavy. It [needed] to not collapse in on itself. I learned a lot doing the glass wigs, because they were also really, really heavy.”
I was curious to know what McGrath was dying to get his hands on. He introduced me to a material I had never heard of—something that seems a little bit like magic.
“Ferrofluid is a magnetic liquid, and there are people who make ferrofluid sculptures. Ferrofluid is a fluid they set these magnets underneath and, by telling the magnets to run at a different power or a different polarity, it changes the shape of the liquid. So it does similar things that you get with metal fillings, but it’s liquid. So, I really want to muck around with ferrofluid on someone’s head. It’s a really nasty chemical; the challenge is figuring out how the hell to contain it.”
After discussing his new obsession with ferrofluid, we continued to talk shop for another twenty minutes. Talking about his future with Wiggery, what he hopes to offer his fans one day, and a little bit about where Trichology Project is headed. Our conversation naturally started to wind down. Before we ended the call, McGrath had a lot to say about Trichology Project’s mission to “Destroy the Hairdresser” and end stereotypes.
“I enjoyed reading through what you guys did and especially the [letter from the editor] on the day it came out about sort of changing the perception of what the people outside believe hairdressers to be and think even what hairdressers believe what hairdressers are to be, as well. I've got dyslexia and ADD, and it hasn’t slowed me down at all. I think it has actually benefited what I do, because my ability to daydream is great! To allow yourself to daydream and float off and do something else with your mind whilst you're doing something else with your hands is really really useful. We think about things differently, and what you guys have done with this idea of destroy the hairdresser, as far as social stereotypes go, is absolutely a positive thing.”
I want to thank Shaun McGrath for giving me a few hours of his time while on his vacation with family. We appreciate it here at TriPro and cannot wait to sit down with the wig wizard again very soon. We want to keep building our army and destroying preconceived notions of what being a hairdresser really means. Find and follow other members of the army on social media platforms. Discover Shaun McGrath’s gravity defying wigs on Twitter, @wiggery, and Instagram, @shaunmmcgrath.
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