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Luisa Popovic artist hair

Artist Luisa Popović creates wild hair looks out of just about anything

We talk to the creative polymath about using hair as her most powerful medium

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From spray-painting patterns on buzzcuts to twisting braids into intricate wigs, and crafting fantastical metallic hairpieces, Luisa Popović’s Instagram is a hair enthusiast’s dream. But ‘hairstylist’ alone is far too limiting a term to describe what she really does, even though hair is clearly her most powerful medium.

“I love to tell a story and speak through visual art,” Popović explains. “Whether it’s hair (which has been my primary medium for years), creative direction, or something else, the aesthetic side of things always resonated with me.” Popovic is not afraid of standing out from the crowd and experiments on herself too – cutting and dyeing her own hair often while bringing her diverse projects to life. “If I could fuse a David LaChapelle iconography shoot, all of Alexander McQueen’s collections from his lifetime, and Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, with a dash of Comme des Garçons into one beauty look, then that would be my favourite,” Popović shares.

The multimedia artist was instilled with the idea that beauty should be experimental and emboldening, after growing in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Her belief that the beauty of beauty is in the act of doing, defiantly and courageously, rather than the superficiality of the look itself runs through her life and her work.

Some of her projects to date include the hair for Kehlani’s Sweet Sexy Savage album artwork and she’s also worked on shoots for Paper magazine. Elsehwere, her multidisciplinary collaboration with Infringe magazine, saw her oversee the creative direction, photo retouching, and costume design for a stunning dystopian shoot with a technological twist. A quartet of models pose on analogue machines, clad in white wires, with plugs and iPhone cables coiled into elaborate headpieces (one looks like a high pony) and jewellery.

Here, we speak to Popovic about how the qualities her shape-shifting aesthetic shares whatever the medium, when she feels most beautiful, and why she’d be a great half-panther.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Luisa Popović: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, a place between Oakland and Berkeley, in California. Growing up there, I was always surrounded by people of different cultural backgrounds, religions, appearances, financial backgrounds, and I pretty much assumed everywhere else was the same way. It taught me not to be afraid to stand up for myself or others, and to always be open to learning through humanity. I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn right now.

What’s your earliest beauty related memory?

Luisa Popović: Getting a short haircut for the first time. I had a crush on this kid who had a bowl cut in kindergarten, and I remember specifically thinking that if I got the same haircut as them, they’d like me. So, I got a bowl cut. Around a similar time,  I went to get my ears pierced but only got the first one done as I decided it hurt too much. I was rocking a really serious androgynous look for a while. I remember getting made fun of and being called a boy a lot, but looking back it was really fly. I’m actually growing my hair into a bowl cut again right now.

What is it you do and why do you do it?

Luisa Popović: I love to tell a story and speak through visual art. Whether it’s hair (which has been my primary medium for years), creative direction, or something else, the aesthetic side of things always resonated with me. That’s where my voice is clearest and loudest. I believe that a visual experience speaks its own language and gives a lot of freedom for interpretation. I want my art to bring people together, start conversations, and to create moving experiences that could inspire people to question their normal ways of thinking.

How did you get into it?

Luisa Popović: When I was a high school freshman, I got my first job as a receptionist at the hair salon in Berkeley where my mom and dad took me to get my haircuts. I always was creatively inclined and being in that environment felt really good. I decided I wanted to do hair and the owner put me on to Sassoon Academy, where I ended up going to cosmetology school, and I worked with them for years after. The thing I loved the most about that company was their focus on creative direction, which is what I’m increasingly passionate about as time goes on.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Luisa Popović: The collaborative experiences I’ve had with long-term friends as well as people I’ve recently met in New York. I’ve been finishing a personal project that is very meaningful to me, and a shift from what I’ve been doing for years. I put together a team of artists who I really admire, and everyone has showed up and brought such amazing energy and work to the table. It has been a really inspiring and uplifting experience that I can’t wait to share and do more of. Also, being featured in Infringe magazine last year felt pretty major.

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.

Luisa Popović: Shapeshifting, experimental, and timeless.

What’s your favourite smell and why?

Luisa Popović: It’s this lotion that smells like a mix of tangerine rind, sandalwood, and vanilla right now. I also love the smell of cardamom, palo santo, and copal incense. I go towards fragrances that are earthy, sweet, and androgynous –  something about that combination is really irresistible to me.

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?

Luisa Popović: This is always changing. Right now I relate to the Bene Gesserit characters in Dune. I love their bluntness, matriarchal energy, and how they have no tolerance for bullshit but are still compassionate in subtle ways. Their self-preservation is amazing. Also, they are badass powerful witches and nobody messes with them. I’m channelling this energy into my creative process, career and life in general.

What is your favourite look of all time and why?

Luisa Popović: Wow this is hard! If I could fuse a David LaChapelle iconography shoot, all of Alexander McQueen’s collections from his lifetime, and Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, with a dash of Comme des Garçons all into one beauty look, then that would be my favourite. Can I do that? The way they all incorporate their own methods of meticulous attention to detail, juxtaposed with elements of chaos that I think exist in every artist’s mind, and somehow manage to create a unique and striking beauty out of it… I love that.

What does beauty mean to you?

Luisa Popović: Beauty means having the courage to change, grow and be bold with your look and within yourself. It means all-around genuine authenticity.

When do you feel most beautiful? 

Luisa Popović: When I am healthy, taking great care of my skin, body, and mind, and have on an outfit with my hair and make-up done that makes me stand out. Or, when I’m trying new things. I can be quite shy in terms of initially approaching people in social settings, so if I’m wearing something that I feel fierce in and that stands out, that’s how I like to announce myself confidently wherever I am. When all those things are happening at once, and I’m hydrated, I feel amazing.

As a warning to the other members of the resistance, your head is to be mounted above the gates of the city. How would you do your makeup that morning?

Luisa Popović: I would need a sickening contour, long lashes, strong brows, glossy skin, and a pop of silver somewhere around my eyes. And some kind of setting spray that will last for eternity so that my look never melts off.

“Beauty means having the courage to change, grow and be bold with your look and within yourself. It means all-around genuine authenticity” – Luisa Popović

It is the sixth day and you are creating humans. They can look however you want them to. What do they look like and why?

Luisa Popović: I would still want everyone to look uniquely different. A uniform look for all humans doesn’t appeal to me. I would love to spend that day creating some universal law for us to be constantly shape-shifting and to look like our energy at any given moment.

If you could have a new sense on top of your existing ones, what would it be?

Luisa Popović: Definitely a strong psychic sense that allows me to read people’s minds at will. 

You have to replace your body with that of an animal or a mythological creature. What do you go for and why?

Luisa Popović: I would 100 per cent be part panther. I’m imagining this as a centaur sort of format for the human-to-animal body ratio, so maybe I make the legs slightly longer for proportion. When the sun hits the black fur, it would reflect red, and I would also have cat ears. I love how panthers have green eyes and night vision and are all black. They are fierce, gorgeous, rare, powerful, smart and dangerous. All qualities I’m very into.

You’ve opted to be cryogenically frozen in hopes of continuing the human race. When you’re awoken it’ll be your responsibility to kick-start the breeding. How will you wear your hair on your first date?

Luisa Popović: I would definitely need to have multiple wig reveal moments so I could keep changing my look throughout the date. I would start with a long luxurious red-head Rapunzel moment, under that I’d need a chic dark chocolate brown bob that hits right at my mouth, then an adorable platinum pixie cut. Maybe a mullet under that? The final reveal under all of it would be a buzz cut with a perfect line going straight down the middle.