charlie le mindu makes outrageous couture from human hair
Gaga’s go-to wig guy on the beauty of being naked and sewing 80,000 fake nails onto one dress.
i-D Hair Week is an exploration of how our hairstyles start conversations about identity, culture and the times we live in.
Charlie Le Mindu wants to be the Dolly Parton of hairdressers. Last year, the French wig wizard expanded his "haute coiffure" empire with a multidisciplinary drag cabaret spectacular inspired by Parton's Tennessee amusement park Dollywood. It's easy to see why Le Mindu is attracted to the campy, escapist nature of theme parks, but Charliewood isn't what you would call a family-friendly experience, unless your parents are nudists. Le Mindu wants his intoxicating clashes of hair, makeup, fashion, skin, and surrealist art to provoke intense reactions. He'd rather hear that someone hates Charliewood than thinks it's pretty okay. In the future, Le Mindu wants to open a legit theme park based on his transgressive idea of beauty.
Le Mindu started working as a hairstylist as a teenager. He was a formally trained by the French Hair Academy before leaving the mainstream salon world to perform theatrics-packed "live cuts" at Berlin nightclubs like White Trash and Barbie Deinhoffs, before becoming the go-to wig guy for Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey. The then-23-year-old was responsible for three of Gaga's most outrageous looks in her iconic 2009 video for "Bad Romance," and if you've seen the singer in a dress or jacket made entirely of pink or turquoise human hair, it's unequivocally a Le Mindu creation. Other items the designer has rendered in Rapunzel-like locks: Chewbacca costumes, hula hoops, shoes, and merkins. While he was in Los Angeles doing hair direction for Snoop Dogg's Joyrich collaboration during MADE, we talked with Le Mindu about Grace Jones, being naked, and the time he spent five weeks making a dress out of 80,000 fake nails.
How did you find your unique calling in the hair world?
I got really into the vintage of working with hair, beauty, and makeup. When I was doing my clearance as a designer, I wasn't happy with what I was making, so I started making hair extensions. Also, I wasn't happy to start with models. I wanted all the movements, so about three years ago I started working with performance and dance shows.
So it was stemming from your work as a hairdresser? Did that teach you any lessons that you may not have learned otherwise?
Yes, because when I create a sculpture or extension, I use very classical French and Japanese hairstyling techniques. I couldn't make some of the stuff I make without that education.
What's the longest you've spent making one piece?
The longest is three weeks, and we were five people on one dress. We used 80,000 fake nails. We had to make all the fake nails and then sew them one-by-one on the dress.
You also now create these clothing-like pieces for the body. Do you approach this work differently than you do wigs that are worn on the head?
Yes I do. I just do collections like a proper designer, from fashion week and stuff. [With performances], I think about the overall — of the movements, the clothing, the colors, everything in one piece. So it's a different approach now than doing just a normal collection.
Who would be your dream client to collaborate with?
I would love to work with Grace Jones. I love her. I would also really like to work with movie directors.
Is that because you're drawn to creating characters?
Yeah, because of the characters. But also I just love videos because they're something that stays. It's a good shop window, you know? People like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Robin Campillo have an aesthetic that I like, so I would like to work with them. At the moment I'm doing a really great project that I'd like to go forward with. I'm doing all the costumes for the opera, "The Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky in July. I would love to work more with ballet dancers for sure.
Why were you so inspired by Dollywood despite never having been there?
Basically I'm a huge fan of theme parks, rides, rollercoasters and stuff. I really think that in terms of the art in the street and the beauty in the street, we're going more into an entertainment sort of thing. I really want to bring people to another theme park. It's not about nudity and stuff, but I want people to feel emotion when they meet a transgender woman or a naked woman. I wanted to create emotion. That's why I love going to a theme park — I have a lot of different emotions. Some emotions I like, some I don't like, and that's what I want to pursue with my Charliewood show. I want people to feel uncomfortable sometimes.
I love theme parks. I really hate ghost rides, but if I see one I always still go on it.
You know I had an exhibition just last week at the Center Pompidou in Paris. I created a ghost ride for it.
Why do you like provoking uncomfortable emotions and negative reactions?
I kind of like when people have negative comments. It makes me want to be better. We can't please everyone, so some people really don't like my work and I know it, and it's really totally fine. I don't mind it. I prefer someone to love it or hate it. I don't like when people don't know.
You recently put on a show called "A Male Gaze." Why is subverting gender such a theme in your work?
I don't really care about gender in general. I think we should have more transgender people and more nudity. You know, my dream is that everyone would walk naked in the streets so we would be all equal. We wouldn't show our wealth through fashion and stuff. I like fashion, obviously, when it's fun, but I'm not a big fan of trends. Trends are for rich people who get free goodies. The everyday person doesn't have the money to change their wardrobe every six months. That's why I like transgender performers and nudity, so everyone feels kind of equal.
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Olivier Ouadah