Born in France to Southern Italian parents, Robert Masciave is not one to shy away from a challenge. The award-winning hairdresser, whose work has been featured in publications including Vogue, Elle and Estetica, splits his time between running his Surrey based salon and creating intricate bespoke hair pieces which push traditional expectations of hair.
With an incredible eye for detail, Masciave’s pieces are always meticulously designed and handcrafted with the help of his team. The son of a dressmaker, he uses a diverse range of techniques to create his pieces. “The design is one thing” he explains, “sometimes you have fantastic ideas in your head. The challenge is how to actually express them, which is why I trained hard to really be able to express myself with my hands”. Having experimented with transforming hair into fabric on a small scale, he applied these techniques to create an outfit entirely out of human hair for 2016’s Alternative Hair Show. Below we take a closer look at these extraordinary pieces and speak to Masciave about his inspirations and techniques.
“Hair is about getting a reaction.”
Your pieces are incredibly intricate and above all, very beautiful. Is that what hair is about for you? To me, hair is about getting a reaction. My personal work is all about that – creating an emotional reaction. I think that’s why some people think it is beautiful. Others don’t, especially when I merge hair with taxidermy. What’s most important to me when I work is that I’m honest with my expression, in the end I’ve got to like and feel good about what I’ve done.
Can you tell us about some of the themes and inspirations behind these pieces? All of my work, whether commercial or experimental, is a result of the way I feel at that time, it’s an evolution of ideas. For example, I started experimenting with feathers a long time ago. What fascinates me about feathers is the way they are constructed and are attached to the wing. The challenge was to think about how they could be applied in a different way than [nature] intended. This is how I develop many of my looks. I like to mimic organic themes, in my head I design some sort of animal or beast.
I wanted the outfit to look a bit like the coat of an animal. I chose to exaggerate the shoulders, to emulate the way that horses and dogs move and the muscles that they have. But I only look at these things for inspiration. The outfit isn’t directly based on a specific animal, just bits of different things that I liked and were guiding me. I don’t like it when something is a direct copy, to me, design is all about mixing things together. My motto (from the quote by the chemist Antoine Lavoisier) is, “nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” It’s all about how you bring elements together and transform them to create something new.
“People who are attracted to my work tend to be those who have learnt to look at things in a different way, who like things that are not necessarily considered beautiful by other people.”
How did you construct the piece? I used a mix of dressmaking skills, costume making and DIY to create it. My mum was a dressmaker so she taught me how to sew. I know how to construct jackets, shirts and trousers but this was totally different. First I made the frame with chicken wire to get the perfect shape. The profile shape was really important in creating a sense of strength, it needed to be really precise. Because I was using human hair which is very heavy, I needed a material that wasn’t going to collapse. I ended up using a thermoplastic material called Worbla, which comes in a rigid sheet but when heated it softens and you can stretch it.
How did you attach the hair to it? I started with the body, attaching layers of 5cm wefts, which I cut, ironed and glued on. I could only work with 100% concentration as they had to be cut very specifically, so I would start work on it every night at around 10pm and finish around 6 or 7am. Then I’d have to go to work the next day and do my clients… it was a bit of a crazy time. Overall I used 200m of wefts, which is a lot of hair! The longest I worked non-stop on it was for 19 hours. I get a bit obsessive when I make these things, because in my head it’s finished, I see it already. So of course I want to see it done!
I was quite surprised how far my edges of patience would go. I thought I was a patient person before but I didn’t realise how much. I think this is probably how people lose their minds. But I really enjoyed it!