Shaun McGrath is postcode-hopping to take part in Forest Hill Fashion Week – although the artist practically sees himself as a local: “I live in East Dulwich, but Forest Hill is actually my closest high street. I have a lot of friends in Forest Hill so I’m out there often. I love the community element of what’s happening in the neighbourhood … that’s rare these days.”
Shaun is obviously comfortable with crossing boundaries – physical or otherwise. The Willis B creative director has become known for Wiggery, his unique take on wig making that fuses his expert knowledge of hairdressing with a flair for dramatically beautiful & edgy but wearable art. His pieces are both visually striking and technically demanding to make, because he uses non-traditional materials and works to make them hair-like in their looks and behaviour.
“I’m coming at it from a hairdresser’s point of view, which gives it a very different feel to how a milliner or a costumer would go about putting things together. Each time I do a good wig it makes me a better hairdresser, and each time I do a good haircut it makes me a better wig maker. It’s a really useful union … they totally feed off each other.”
High Street Fusion
He’ll have wigs on display at The Butchery on London Road as part of the Designers on the High Street series, and in the run-up he collaborated with the owners Ruth & Nathan to make a wig constructed from pieces of meat: “It was quite interesting as a hairdresser to work with a butcher because we’re two very traditional elements you find on most high streets in the world, and this project saw them come together to form something that is really different.”
When I tell him that the idea of wearing a meat wig makes me feel uncomfortable, he remains unfazed: “I love the fact that it will make some people uncomfortable. With any type of art, it’s useful to have debate – to have conference. I think that’s brilliant from the artist’s point of view … and much better than a meek consensus.”
The physical meat wig is long gone, but it lives on in a series of photographs taken by Clare Marshall. “Ultimately I do create for the photograph. I will make something because I want it shot beautifully, so I have photographers I work with closely. They’re long-term collaborators who support and understand my vision.”
Hair, wigs and art
As a junior hairdresser in his native Australia, Shaun had a preference for unusual styles from the start. He recently uncovered a photo taken at a show he got asked to do just a few weeks after starting out as a hairdresser. It pictures a girl “covered in blue clay. I kind of did the hairstyle underneath and then just moulded it up. It’s a photo I hadn’t seen in 10 years and it was interesting to look at because it explains a lot about where I am right now.”
Despite his unique take on design, Shaun started out promoting his work in a fairly conventional way through entering competitions. He often got to the finals to get told “we love it – it’s probably the best thing we’ve seen today, but how do we sell it?”
After a few iterations he decided to change direction and follow a more artistic route: “I started doing exhibitions featuring the wigs. I’d had three successful outings, and for the fourth one I decided to invite the hair press along. I got featured in HJI and that really got me noticed.”
Work and creativity
Shaun’s advice to people starting out (fashion industry or otherwise) is simple – break the mould. Be brave, do something creative and ignore people who tell you there is a right way. “Although I work for a small salon I’m right up there amongst my peers because of what I’ve done with Wiggery. It’s really great when you reach that top shelf … your own niche from where all competition is removed … everything just gets cool!”
Clearly reaching this point isn’t easy. Listening to Shaun talk about his journey, about the dedication, focus and adaptability that it demanded – or still demands – it’s clear that that you’ve got to love the work.
“I would do Wiggery whether it made me money or not. It is something I’m very, very passionate about and I enjoy the process. Some of the pieces take months & months and I’ll quite happily sit there and do them and not get bored. I’ll have that end goal in mind and will be willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”
Shaun’s wigs will be on display at The Butchery for the duration of Forest Hill Fashion Week, and he will also feature in the catwalk shows. Click here fore more information.
Image and words by Stefan Ferreira