Shepperton Wig Company creates wigs for theatre, film and television, and also works with alopecia patients. Founded by Linda Cooley, Gill Little and Joanne Foster in 2002, the company has created wigs for theatre productions such as Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Phantom Of The Opera, and films including Mission Impossible, Gosford Park and Alice in Wonderland.
We caught up with two of the company’s founders, Linda and Joanne, to look at wig making in action.
Can you tell us about the process of creating a wig? It all starts with the designer coming to us with a brief of the wig they are after. We’ll have a fitting with the actor or actress whom the wig is for, and there we gather everything we’ll need; a set of head measurements and a clingfilm shape of the head, with the hairline drawn on. It’s important to get as much information as we can at this point – we rarely have the luxury of a second fitting!
We source the hair through a hair merchant: we send them a sample of the exact colour we need, and they’ll match this for us. Sometimes these samples take an unusual form – when we made a wig for Dame Judi Dench in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the designer wanted her hair to match the colours of her costume, so we sent the hair merchant a sample of fabric from her dress to match.
Once we have the hair, the long process of ‘knotting’ the wig begins! Each hair is individually fed through the holes in a lace foundation, stretched over a wooden head block for us to work on. We use a knotting needle, which is like a tiny crochet needle, to feed the hair through. Each hair only takes a couple of seconds to knot, but on average it can take 40 hours of knotting to complete a wig!
Do you always use human hair? Mostly, although occasionally we mix in yak hair for bigger hairpieces, facial wigs and beards. This is to do with the texture; yak hair is very wiry and coarse which is great for a fuller look. Sometimes we use synthetic hair, although it can be challenging to work with. We once made a wig for a life-sized Cindy doll using acrylic hair… it took over three weeks to make. She had floor-length hair, it was a huge challenge to keep it glossy, and stop it from becoming matted and knotty!
“it can take 40 hours of knotting to complete a wig”
What is the most challenging part of the job? We’ve worked in the industry for many years, and while the physical process of wig making is still the same, we have had to adapt to technological changes and advances – such as the rise of HD television. This, of course, captures incredible detail, which means the wigs really have to be completely perfect in order to blend in and look realistic. We get around this by usingsuperfine lace foundations which are virtually undetectable once on the head.
Sourcing natural hair has also become more challenging; these days it’s very rare to find ‘virgin’ hair, that hasn’t been dyed or mixed with hair extensions. But the main ongoing challenge for us, because we often take pieces home to work on – there’s hair everywhere! It drives our husbands mad.
“Making a wig for someone who has lost their hair is incredibly rewarding. It has such a transformative quality”
What is your favourite part of making a wig? We really love the process of knotting the hair. It takes a great deal of patience but we love the creativity involved in making something from start to finish. Along with our theatre and film work, we work with alopecia and cancer sufferers who have lost their hair. Hair is so personal, to lose it can be a big knock to your self-confidence. Making a wig for someone who has lost their hair is incredibly rewarding. It has such a transformative quality, you feel like you’ve played a small part in making someone look and feel like themselves again.
Interview Emma de Clercq Photography Panos Damaskinidis Special Thanks Linda Cooley & Joanne Foster at Shepperton Wig Company Website