Saturday, 17 April 2010

Wigs up North

As part of my research into narrative, belongings, femininity and transformation, I visited Manchester's own Wigs up North the other week.

The main purpose of my visit was to see some professional dressing tables in use to add to the dressing table gallery, but I found it soon became more a spotlight on the importance of artifice.

With the syncline 'All the Wigs and Make-Up expertise you'll ever need - in one place', Wigs up North caters to theatrical productions, drag acts, hair loss and film and T.V productions. Recently Peter Kay visited the shop for a hush hush fitting of a wig for his new tour!

I felt as if I had reached something close to heaven walking through the door to find shelves and shelves of make-up and beauty products. Mineral, stage and everyday cosmetics; I studied each shelf with enthusiasm. But it was the back of the shop where the action was really going on.

Dressing tables sat laden with tools waiting for the next transformation to happen. Wigs stood on stands at every level and drawers were filled with wig accessories.
Two students were taking part in a workshop and industrially working away at wig making, and I was allowed to have a good look around and find out more about this particular side of femininity and appearance.

The power of artifice was made ever more apparent to me the more I talked to the owners. The ability to change your appearance takes on a variety of meanings when clients include, members of the transgender and crossgender community, and women suffering from alopecia and undergoing chemotherapy. For many of these people the importance of feeling comfortable and accepted with the way they look is one of the most important aspects of their lives.

Playing around with identity has much to do with how you percieve yourself as well as how others percieve you. So strong is this power that the owners talked of actors whole personalties and physical character changing before their eyes as make up and wigs were applied before a theatre performance.

I was really interested to find out why the girls from Wigs up North got into the industry, as the world of cosmetics and glamour is so close to my heart; to quote a line from Glee, 'makeovers are like crack to me!'

Many answered that their interest stemmed from an arts background, which I can totally understand, for it's easy to see the connection between application of make-up with paints and the ability to create something new each time. But other answers included a love of theatrics starting from childhood. I loved the fact that this successful business is based on imaginations that were captured by the likes of Adam and the Ants and Visage!

The visit was really interesting as it made me think about how looks affect every aspect of life. Cosmetics, hair and style are deeply entwined with personality and behaviour. So next time you put on some lipstick or straighten your hair, just think, it's not just going to change the way you look but you whole day too.


RHCarpenter said...

As an "artist" I can definitely see the melding of art and makeup, especially as I touch blush to cheek, shadow to eye, etc...I always think of painting portraits and how the paintbrush does this on paper like I do on my own face. I think there is an artist in every makeup person (remembering the makeup artist, Kevin A? who made up current actresses to look just like old-time movie stars - some of them were amazing transformations).

Kittie Howard said...

What a fascinating post! Few probably realize the work that goes into an actor's appearance. And, yes, the transformation is art. And for women undergoing chemo it's art with life!!