The maverick stylist crafting clothes and art from human hair
Charlie Le Mindu's hairdos are so awe-inspiring and unusual that he doesn't refer to his work as a hairdressing anymore. Instead, he prefers the grand title of "haute coiffure."
Le Mindu has made clothes and hats from human hair extensions (like this coat worn by Drew Barrymore), devised costumes for the ballet, and even covered a piano and matching chandelier in black hair extensions for Lady Gaga. His cinematic wigs, clothes and sets have also been featured in publications like Italian and French Vogue.
Some of Le Mindu's bespoke wigs, like the ones he created for Gaga, can take up to six weeks to make, with each specially selected follicle sewn into a mesh cap by hand. He remembers for one London Fashion Week show for which he only wanted to use the white hair of elderly women. His hair suppliers, Hairdreams, rose to the challenge, but it was no easy process.
"They had to choose each hair with tweezers to find the perfect white strands," Le Mindu chuckled over the phone from Los Angeles.
Le Mindu's first foray into hair wasn't quite as extreme as his output suggests. At 13, he began hairdressing at a small salon in Bordeaux, France, hoping to learn "the very practical French techniques of hairdressing."
After meeting a girl in a local punk band, Le Mindu was introduced to an assortment of new music and attitudes, and at 17, he and his friend moved to Berlin. It was here that he began making money from his hairdressing.
"I was taking a chair and my hair kit to night clubs and doing haircuts for free to the people that were coming into the clubs. I had wanted to target people on the dance floor so I thought, 'I'm just going to go to them directly.'"
The movement of hair fascinated him so much that, in recent years, he's moved on from the clubs and runways to more theatrical venues. In a 2016 exhibition at Paris' Palais de Tokyo museum, dubbed "Charliewood," Le Mindu incorporated performance, installation, dance and video; and this past July, he designed the costumes for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
"I wasn't a hairdresser any more. I was working with the medium of hair as a material," he said. Le Mindu's hair explorations couldn't have come at a better time. He believes inventive hairstyles are far overtaking hats in popularity stakes among millennials.
"You have more personality in your hair and wigs. People love talking about their style with wigs. They are another form of accessory," he said. And, ultimately, Le Mindu thinks a powerful hairstyle is about more than aesthetics.
"Doing hair for me sometimes is like being a psychiatrist. Changing someone's hair really changes the mood of the person," he said. "Hair is attached to your body and so I can completely change someone's personality through just their hair."