Dressed in a black polo, work boots and black drawstring-waist pleather workout pants, netherworld-nightlife hairdresser and multimedia artist Charlie Le Mindu recently landed briefly at the sun-filled bistro Fig & Olive in West Hollywood to celebrate the publication of his new book, ‘Haute Coiffure.’
It’s an oversized, hardcover trophy for the coffee-table, packed with jumbo images of the artist’s dazzling and sometimes disturbing wigs, headpieces and costumes created for Lady Gaga, other performers, and the fashion runways of the world. His primary medium, as always, is genuine human hair itself, supplied by premium distributor Hairdreams, based in Torrance, CA.
Over a lush spread of artisanal breads, olives, olive oil and charcuterie, ESTETICA got down to it with the surprisingly chill Charlie before he took flight for Las Vegas, where he creates fluorescent stage-wear for The Crazy Horse Girls.
1. So there is life after Lady Gaga?
“(Laughs) Yes, and there is life after Peaches, too. I think of Lady Gaga as a shop-window. It’s been fun to create a frame and look through her at different ideas. I worked with her just as she was getting famous.”
2. You’ve created runway shows, displays and installations for the Gallery Lafayette, and wigs that move with a life of their own through, with moving, animated lights. What’s your favorite groove these days?
“These days, I am moving away from fashion and more into performance art. Don’t be offended, but I never read the fashion magazines, although I did just agree to take the position of beauty editor for Garage. I am really looking forward to this time next year, actually October 2016, when I will participate in the Nuit Blanche (White Nights) in Paris. It’s when all of the shops and bars and clubs stay open all night, and there are art performances on all of the great bridges of the city. The government of Paris selects artists to curate each bridge, and I am one of the lucky ones.“
3. Some of the venues where your work gets the greatest traction has a retro feel – I’m talking about burlesque, for example. Is this where you’re coming from?
“Yes, that’s right! Because for decades, centuries, really, stage craft has involved nudity and sex. You could always do things live on stage which would send you to prison in real life. So theatre has always been a little dangerous. So yes, a pretty girl –or a drag queen or whatever– in a dark, smoky theatre, everybody’s drinking, she’s stripping down to just her coiffure and high heels, doing a little dance on the stage, or behind a screen where she’s just a silhouette or a shadow, seems retro but it’s still where the edge is. Except now we have DJs and poppers.“
4. You treat the hair, and the body itself, as fluid and plastic, meaning it is just another medium to be sculpted. For instance, tattoos are a way of modifying the body. You have tattoos on your eyelids—that must have hurt?
“Yes, I am interested in transforming the body. When we alter the body, we can also alter the mind. I myself used to be a tremendously unhappy chubby kid. Just terrible, the other kids picked on me, I was gay… my aunt was a hairdresser, so when I was 13 I wanted to be a hairdresser to make people happy. I saw what a coiffure—I mean old-school rollers, under the dryer—would do for a grandmother in my little hometown. And yes, you are quite right, I have undergone a lot of physical transformation myself. I was no longer fat. I had the lipo surgeries and re-made my body – I think I had the courage to do this from my mother, who always said that Michael Jackson looked better, the more surgery he had.
The tattoos are something every club kid got. The eyelids, yeah, may have been a little tricky. These say “Gypsy King”, because I am half-gypsy, though I realize that they don’t like to be called that. My dad is Rom, Romany, and the Rom have been outsiders for hundreds of years, wherever they go. It’s like “S-h-h-h-h-h-h-h” (puts his index finger to his lips in a whisper).
I also create a lot of sculptural headpieces that explore this idea of disguise. Some of them are like a surrealist burqa, where there is just a slit through the mask. So that your identity is kept hidden. Some have horns and crowns.“
5. You are always called extreme, shocking, aggressive, sometimes even hostile. What’s that about?
“Again, it’s my punk background. Also, I may have gotten some of this from my mother. She used to love Nina Hagen, even though she was trapped in a rural domestic life. I grew up in the clubs of Berlin, dancing all night to that music, just feeling everything. I think this is why women respond to my work. We all have rage and other feelings that we want to let out. It’s fun to let it out with your hair and your fashion.”
With this, Charlie gently pushes several bite-sized stewed calamari, all curling tentacles, onto my butter-dish from his steaming bowl of paella. Giggling a little, he shivers his shoulders and shrugs, “They scare me.”
By Victoria Thomas, ESTETICA USA West Coast Editor, Los Angeles