Ten steps to creating wild ‘hair sculptures’

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Alix Fox
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Loose ‘n’ lazy loungey locks are fine day to day, but on some special occasions, you want your hair to be the main attraction. The centre of attention. A jaw-dropping, eye-popping up-do that the whole room looks up to. Robert Masciave and Martin Holmes are the judges of Extreme Hair Wars: a TV show in which expert hairdressers compete to create the most stunning ‘art hair sculptures’, and here they show us how.

What is it like to have your hair transformed into a fantastic flight of fancy?

Here, writer Alix Fox discovers exactly that, as Masciave and Holmes share their insider knowledge on how to raise the bar when styling high-impact looks at home…

1/ Lay firm foundations: “I’m going to build a backcombed beehive on top of Alix’s head, and attach large wings made from dove feathers to either side – in order for all that to stay in place, I need a solid base,” says Robert. “I’m sectioning off the lower half of her hair, and pulling it into a tight bun at the back. The taut hair on each side of her head will have the strength to support any decorations I pin into it.”

Take time to make your base layer of hair strong and stable – think Teresa May - otherwise anything you layer on top will tumble down later. 

2/ Tie hyper-tight ponytails with a homemade bungee band: Slide two Kirby grips either end of an elastic band, then gather hair into a ponytail, anchor one grip into the base, and wrap the band repeatedly around the hair before fixing with the second grip. This way you get a neat pony that’s tighter than the biggest miser you know, without having to tug hair through a bobble. It’s far easier to take out, too.

3/ Honey, comb carefully: “Extreme hair doesn’t have to mean extreme damage,” notes Martyn. “Use a pure bristle brush to backcomb, not a cheap plastic or nylon one.” Backcombing works by causing the scales of the hair cuticle to stick up, creating volume. Do it right, and you can smooth them back down afterwards. Do it roughly, and you’ll cause breakage. 

4/ Wanna be a high priestess of high hair? Dry shampoo is your secret weapon: “I’m using Batiste to give Alix’s hair grip, and to create a powdery, dramatic Marie Antoinette look,” Robert explains. “You can use it like a colour spray: I’ve coated her beehive in it until it has a white, chalky finish. Next, I’ve retained a fringe-size section of hair at the front of her head which I’m separating into strands and criss-crossing over the beehive before fixing with hairspray. The contrasting paler hair beneath emphasises the woven effect.”

This might look intricate, but it’s surprisingly easy to achieve, even if you’re not a hair wiz.

5/ Get crafty: “You’ll see glue guns used a lot on the show, although not in direct contact with people’s scalps!” laughs Martyn. “Many extreme hairpieces are built on mannequins, then attached to models later. Try building a base using Sinamay – a light but sturdy mesh made from banana palm fibres, commonly used in millinery – and gluing on hair extensions, chains or beads. I recycle jewellery I’ve snapped up for pennies from charity shops.”

“I like to use Worbla - a thermoplastic sheeting that you mould to whatever shape you want using hot air or water, then let set and cover with hair,” comments Robert. “It’s a favourite of cosplayers and movie costumiers. If you want to incorporate feathers, as I have in Alix’s wings, use straightening irons to groom them.” 

6/ Kick dud kirby grips to the kerb: When fixing your masterpiece in place, use professional grips. “Cheap ones tend to be frustratingly fiddly to open, and too short,” he complains. “Buy 2.5 inch pro grips – the added length helps them act as scaffolding to support your creations.”

7/ Want OTT, but feeling overwhelmed? Dial it back – or dial an expert: “A load of messy plaits with strips of leather worked into them is a viable Viking-esque look even if you’re heavy-handed,” says Martyn. “Or scrape hair back, and graffiti a design onto your head using a stencil and wash-out coloured spray.”

“Alternatively, ask your hairdresser if they can build you something; many have incredible imaginations, but are limited to churning out blunt bobs because that’s what everyday customers want.”

Ready to hit the town?

8/ Pop paracetamol in your handbag: “I’ve sent models down runways wearing sculptures weighing over 2 kilos,” grins Robert. “If you’re not used to tight, heavy hair, pack painkillers.”

…and when you want to take it down?

9/ Before you wash it out, see if you can wear it out: “The next day, see if you can pin an undone updo into a sexily chaotic rock ‘n’ roll bedhead mass, or take plaits out to reveal punk-meets-pre-Raphaelite crazy waves,” suggests Martyn. “Don’t rush to wash.”

10/ Use bubbles before brushing, and swerve supermarket shampoos: “Don’t try to brush hairspray out dry; drench your hair, lather and rinse, slather with conditioner, then use a Tangle Teezer to delicately detangle, starting from the ends and working up,” instructs Robert.

Even if you’ve used so many setting products that you’re not safe to stand within a five mile radius of a naked flame, don’t strip them out with harsh detergents. “Cheap shampoos rob your hair and scalp of essential oils, then cover the surface in a silicon-based coating that might make hair feel smooth and shiny initially, but is like wrapping it in plastic,” Martyn cautions. “Salon shampoos are more caring, and more efficient too, so you can use less.”

Which is about the only time these guys will advise that less is more.

Alix’s verdict

“This is super hair for superstar events - not a trip to the supermarket - so it’s no shock that elements of it aren’t exactly practical. Whilst the wings made me feel like a mythical goddess, they also acted like blinkers on a horse, blocking me from seeing anything that wasn’t straight in front of my face…although they’d make a great excuse to ‘accidentally’ blank anyone you didn’t want to speak to at a party.

However I did take something away from it, the idea of decorating a beehive by loosely weaving strands of hair over the top of it and setting in place with strong hairspray. It takes seconds and doesn’t require complex braiding skills. I’ve already copied this trick to upgrade a standard up-do and got tonnes of compliments.”

Extreme Hair Wars launches Thursday 25th Jan at 8pm on 5STAR

Images: Bekky Lonsdale