It's a near impossible feat to sum up or define Charlie le Mindu and his life's work in one word. He's not just a hair stylist nor a fashion designer nor a milliner nor an artist. No, he's all of the above—an amalgam of all four, along with being a mastermind behind Charliewood, a surreal transgressive performance art piece-slash-installation-slash-fashion show inspired by Dolly Parton's Dollywood that's making stops around the globe (previously: Palais de Tokyo in Paris; most recently: Cedar Lake in N.Y.C.). But it's his creations that are the objects of endless fascination: he creates wearable works of art from human hair.
How he found his calling? The 30-year-old French designer began his career as a hairdresser at 15 years old, where he was trained at, what he calls, "countryside salons" in Castelnau-de-Médoc, France. "Hair is beautiful, but it can be very disgusting at the same time," he tells us. "A hair stylist is like a psychiatrist sometimes, because people come with their problems, and that's why I like hair—it's emotional."
To cultivate that emotion, le Mindu took his talent and everything he learned after years of being a hair stylist and funneled them into sculptural forms—with hair as his medium of choice, of course—which led to a spot in the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week lineup, and a celebrity fanbase, including Lady Gaga, Sia, and Florence Welch. "I see that hair really needs movement," he says on why he went into performance art, starring a diverse cast of dancers and contortionists of all shapes and sizes. "It's my perception of beauty."
And he's picky about the hair he uses: It's all human hair, it's sourced from a company called Hairdreams, and it has to be from Russia. He's pretty adamant about that. "I only like to work with Russian hair, because the quality is high—it's light, yet strong to withstand all the chemicals and color changes I make to it," le Mindu says, likening himself to a chemist in that sense. "One of my pieces is neon—I spent six months in my studio with a UV light finding the perfect shade. I'm always experimenting."
Neon aside (you can see one of his pieces—the "Jellyfish"—pictured above), he's fused strands of hair with real gold, soaked them in dyes, laced them with silver, and dipped them in resin for a lacquered effect (shaped to resemble feathers). His "Chewbacca" masterpiece, well, the name speaks for itself—it took him two months to create by hand, though exactly how, he wouldn't reveal.
"I can't tell you that, it's my technique!" he exclaims. "The hair comes in a bunch in different lengths, and then I do my magic."