Jun 30, 2012

A Little Girl Gets Her Hair Cut

How many of us, when we were young, took scissors to our hair, thinking it would look pretty and ended up in an operatic tragedy?

This little girl was just "trying to cut off the curls" but ended up giving her sister a drastic a-symmetrical look. When her partner-in-crime put the scissors down she realized something had gone wrong. She said, "uh-oh. this is bad, bad, bad, bad."

The take-away? "Hair-cutting takes a lot of concentration."

Jun 29, 2012

The Hand-Me-Down Beard

DJ and producer Tim "Love" Lee has one of the best, most joyous, beards I know.

I've often encouraged him to enter the World Beard and Moustache Championship. Well, today it turns out his beard is not just a choice; Tim actually has a genetic marker for beard-growing. His great-grand dad, Wilfrid Arthur Bevan, sported a wonderful beard, as this painting from 1870 shows. A remarkable resemblance in the eyes, don't ya think?

Tim was recently interviewed while getting a haircut by the Village Voice and noted, 
I really like the idea of 'putting a beard' on something and making it a bit shabby and left of center. But now I'm trying to go for more of the 'Successful Businessman' look until I make my first million, and then I'll go back to the 'Crazed Woodsman.'
 Intriguing how the signifiers for beard styles change over time.

Jun 26, 2012

Nina Leen and the Hair of American Women

A woman showing her fashionable wartime hairstyle called Winged Victory. NYC. 
All photos are courtesy of LIFE magazine archives and are captioned and dated accordingly.

This wonderful shot of a woman's hairstyle decorated with birds is from the August 23, 1943 issue of LIFE magazine and was part of a story about "amateur vs. professional ways of achieving a summer coiffure." It was taken by photographer Nina Leen, who shot thousands of photographs over the course of her career for LIFE magazine. She captured (I'd say lovingly) American woman in their day-to-day lives from the 1940s until 1972, when the magazine ceased publishing weekly. Her photoessays of housewives, young working girls, and socialites reveal the idealized femininity of the time and show both the public and private lives of women.

I present a few of Ms. Leen's photos here that speak to women and their hair.

Women Sitting and Reading under Hairdryers at Rockefeller Center "Pamper Club." 
July 14, 1952.

Wig Posing under Drier.
September 1958

Model Vikki Dougan attaching hair clips to wig.
July 1952

Model Vikki Dougan Wearing Attachable Bun of Extra Hair, Next to Other Wigs.
July 1952

September 1958

Models posing in wigs.
September 1958

Women's Hairpieces.
September 15, 1958
Singer Julie Wilson on phone beside closet with hanging evening dresses and wigs on top shelf.

Students Learning How to Put All of Their Hair on Top of Their Head,
Underneath the Shower Caps.
April 16, 1945.

Picture of an Woman with a "Butch Haircut."
Date unknown.

Triplets Christina Dees and Megan Dees Modeling Their Braids Before Getting Hair Cuts.
May 8, 1964
Location: Webster Groves, MO, US

Popular Shoulder Length Hairstyle Worn by Teenagers
August 4, 1947

Teen-Age Girls
December 11, 1944
Six HS sorority girls re-enacting solemn,
secret initiation ritual by candlelight for photographer because only a real member has ever seen the real thing.

Jun 21, 2012

Hairdresser’s Hot Dog

Hairdresser’s Hot Dog, by John Drysdale, c.1960

"The owner of a London hair salon brought his Labrador Mastiff cross to work and it always sat on a chair beneath a hair dryer. Whenever newcomers asked about its curious mannerism the hairdresser adorned his dog with a ready-made hairnet-curler-wig which made it look as ridiculous at its human neighbours. Talk about it advertised his business in the area."

A Fetish Cut

The online fashion website ShowStudio is running an online series called Fashion Fetish as a component to their exhibition Selling Sex. Fashion Fetish includes performances, fashion films, and essays made solely by women working in fashion.  The video "Is My Mind For Me" by Sarah Piantadosi and Ellie Grace Cumming (assistant stylist to Katy England) depicts Sardé Hardie using large shears, to slowly cut off her long black hair.

The film is described as addressing trichophilia, being sexually aroused by hair (or specifically its subset of being aroused by hair cutting). It depicts a girl taking scissors to her long hair in a Junya Watanabe sweater with "Hymn Eola" by Tonstartssbandht providing the soundtrack. The sexual significance of hair as fetish is obvious, but somehow I just don't think there is much eroticism in the 2 1/2 minute video, unless you happen to be a trichophiliac.

There is a strong relationship between women and their hair. Hair is often a symbol and tool of feminine sexuality and power. Cutting off one's long locks has paradoxical meanings: it is an act of renunciation of power, submission almost, as well as an act of fearlessness. And hair cutting is an apt action since fetish is about power/powerlessness and presence/absence.

But fetish is also about arousal, that of either the subject or audience. While the camera's eye is operating voyeuristically, it doesn't seduce the viewer. There is no scopic pleasure. And the actress (who evokes a bit of Kate Moss) shows little emotion. Not fear, joy, or ecstasy. Things improve a bit when, as she takes the shaver to her head, her fingers gently touch the crewed cut, and she caresses her scalp. But when the camera shifts to her toes and the hair gathering on the floor, I think the filmmakers missed the opportunity to have her curl her toes. This one small gesture would have said it all.


The ShowStudio website provides this essay to contextual the works:
If, historically speaking, a fetish is a manufactured object which has magical powers, or one that people are irrationally devoted to, fashion is a veritable fetish-factory of 'It' shoes, 'Now' bags, and garments that magically propose to make your life indefinably better. On a less abstract level, fashion has been obsessed with sexual fetishism for centuries. The subtle constraint of the corset, the snugly-gloved hand, a shiny boot of leather - all staples of the well-dressed man or woman, and equally the well-equipped Sado-Masochist. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Pandora's Box of fashion fetish was blown apart - from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's proposal of 'rubberwear for the office' in their seminal London boutique SEX, to Gianni Versace's sanitised 'Bondage Chic' of 1992, to the power of John Galliano's 'Sado-Maso' haute couture collection for Christian Dior in 2000, designers articulated the sexual peccadilloes of a select few across the international catwalks. It's fetish as fashion.

Fashion Fetish hands the power entirely to female fashion professionals, asking them to address the notion of Fashion Fetish and examining their individual visions of women. In contrast with Selling Sex, which reimagines the female relationship with sex, Fashion Fetish focuses on a woman's relationship with clothing. Although as fashion historian Anne Hollander has asserted, the nude in art always wears 'The fashion of her time' - fashion's influence can be felt across the naked flesh, her body as 'fashioned' as a corseted ball-gown. Dressed or undressed, this project offers a clear field, a blank canvas and an open mind to a selection of some of the most important women working in fashion today - designers, stylists, models and image-makers - inviting them to present their own interpretation of Fashion Fetish. Their visual interpretations of the Fashion Fetish theme are then used as the inspiration for a host of female authors, journalists and cultural commentators to 'unpick' fetish in a series of accompanying essays, each written to correspond with a particular piece.

Jun 20, 2012

Knit Wigs

What pastel fantastic-ness!! Photographer Louise Walker has spun up a series of hair portraits she calls "Wooly Head." It turns out that Ms. Walker is not only a photographer but also a master knitter! It's hard not to feel sweet for these doll-like ladies. Each knitted wig is a sculptural feat, representing a different era and she's even documented her technique and process on her blog.

1920s Hair Portrait
"I used a lacey stitch to get the wave initially running through the piece. I knitted it long enough to double it over then stuff and sew into place."
1950s Hair Portrait
"The hair piece was baby blue, inspired by the 1950s and Katy Perry's use of the eras styling."
1930s Hair Portrait
"I liked the loose curls in the hair and didn't want to recreate the finger wave I had done for the 20s look. I went for a middle parting in coral red wool...I think the hair piece could have been better. It needed more volume on the top, and if I had made longer pieces I could have doubled them up to make them visually stronger"

Jun 8, 2012

Beauty, Virtue and Vice

Beauty, Virtue and Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth-Century Prints is an amazingly extensive online exhibition of the American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, Massachusetts). It covers topics such as "Ideal Beauty," "Women as Objects of Beauty and Desire," "Variations on the Beauty Standard" and "Women in Public Life." It is the section on "Images of Women at Advertising Strategies" that shows the role of hair in the construction of beauty that you may find of interest.

While the exhibition points out that most prints "were designed simply to please the eye... they are also useful to historians who would like to understand how nineteenth-century Americans thought about the world in which they lived. Although prints are often works of imagination (even when they are grounded in fact), they still have much to tell us about the time and place in which they were created."

Trade cards and print ads were a popular mode of advertising in the nineteenth-century, particularly after the Civil War. Appealing images were used to associate beauty and leisure activities with a variety of products, from soap to cigars. In the two cases below, you'll see to what lengths illustrators went to promote (the already) popular hair tonics. Seeing the richness of this topic, I'm sorry I didn't address it in the exhibition I put together for The Museum at FIT, The Artful Line: Drawings and Prints from FIT's Special Collections of the Gladys Marcus Library.

 Lyon's Katharion. Sarony & Co., 1856.
"Although this advertisement promotes the retail business of Heath, Wynkoop, & Co., the proprietors use the appeal of a popular restorative hair tonic, Lyon’s Katharion, to attract the attention of potential customers. Katharion (from the Greek word for “pure”) was a generic name for tonics that counted castor oil, tincture of cantharides, alcohol, and fragrance oils among their ingredients. This advertising image says little about what the product actually does, but uses the powerful visual language of artistic fancy to associate itself and Lyon’s Katharion with romance, luxury, and beauty. 
The setting is highly theatrical. The lush-tressed young woman admires herself in a large gilt mirror (itself a very expensive luxury item) as she leans casually upon a bureau dripping with jewels. The enclosure that frames her seems like a fancifully decorated vending booth, and the architectural details at far left and right suggest that all of this is set within a grand European palace. Visual pleasures include gilt architectural embellishments, flowers bursting in bloom, lively sculptural carvings, and silky fabrics. These many symbols represent a variety of sensual comforts, and are meant to stimulate a viewer’s desire. This beautifully colored print represents a mighty promise from a little bottle of hair tonic."
Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer. Attributed to Louis Maurer, n.d.
 "Hall’s Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer was another popular brand of hair tonic, and as with the previous print, this one, too, capitalizes on the popularity of these name brands to advertise a retail business.  This print is, in many ways, similar to the previous print advertising Lyon’s Katharion, particularly in its representation of beauty and comfort within a luxurious setting. The scenario here is a domestic one, and the young beauty with the endless tresses is being tended to by an equally beautiful, expensively dressed handmaid. All of the furnishings, and the dress of both women signal wealth and luxurious comfort. Louis Maurer, the presumed creator of this print, was an exceptionally successful American lithographer who worked for a number of major American art print publishers."