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Photography Ricardo Gomes, via @charlielemindu

Charlie Le Mindu’s surreal hair creations are exquisitely grotesque

The French hairstylist has sent wig gas masks down the runway and dyed Peaches’ hair under a DJ booth, here we talk to him about his inspirations and more

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Charlie Le Mindu is cool. There’s no other way to put it. Fashion’s irreverent hairstylist (when he’s not designing for his fashion label or choreographing elaborate head-to-toe hair costumes) doesn’t follow the rules when it comes to hair. Limitless and weird, his work with colour, form, and design pushes the boundaries of convention and gravity. It’s freaky and it’s fascinating, not words often used to describe hair but Le Mindu has always been hard to put into a neat box.

Raised by a rugby player father and a showgirl mum, a young Le Mindu started cutting his Barbies’ hair before graduating to the drag queens in the gay clubs of Berlin where he moved when he was 17. Those early years ingrained in Le Mindu a punk mentality that remains at the essence of his work to this day but he also takes inspiration from everything from French dancer and porn actress Lolo Ferrari to Brutalist architect Tadao Ando. 

Moving as he does between fashion, art and the stage, Le Mindu’s work is hard to categorise. “My main passion is movement, I think it’s the one word that would unite all my worlds as a hairstylist, designer and artist,” he says. “I love the capabilities and movement in hair, especially in dance. My design in dance whether in costume and hair is to look at how the movement directs visual experience for the performer and audience.” 

Avant-garde and always wildly creative, Le Mindu’s work is also, at its core, fun – and shocking. He’s designed human hair hats worn by Lady Gaga and sent wig gas masks down the runway, alongside naked models dripping in blood. He’s dyed Peaches’ hair under a DJ booth during a live performance and was the first person to give Florence Welch her signature red locks. He’s the artist that you can’t wait to see what he does next. 

Here we speak to Le Mindu about his inspirations, creative process and relationship to beauty.

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

Charlie Le Mindu: I grew up in the south of France next to Bordeaux, in a very extreme and inspiring family. My dad was a rugby player so I was forced to play rugby for a while and my mum was a party girl who wore mostly leather, stripper clothes, and tons of make-up. 

My parents never stopped moving as we were travellers, this is why I have a caravan tattoo on my chest and ‘gypsi king’ with spelling mistake – I think this explains my background perfectly and this is something that has been true of my adult professional life, I spend very little time in one place as work has me travelling a lot. 

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?

Charlie Le Mindu: Yes, I was 12 I was wearing a pink fake fur and cow print trousers in school, I got refused at the gate… I looked awesome! 

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?

Charlie Le Mindu: I was a huge fan of Lolo Ferrari. We used to have this TV show in France called Strip-Tease, which was a docu-series on people allowing viewers to learn about them on a deeper, uncensored level. I suppose this was the beginning of reality TV, it was a huge inspiration just as much as Eurotrash was. I was always drawn to the, let’s say, non-normal social construct of life and I was actually very flattered when Jean Paul Gaultier asked me to be in the 20 year anniversary of Eurotrash on Channel 4

An important artist and person that I would refer to the most in life would be Tadao Ando, he is a huge inspiration of mine, his personal life as a boxer and his work as an architect; Brutalism always inspires me. 

How did you actually get into doing hair? 

Charlie Le Mindu: I went to French hairdressing school for a few years, then learned my taste in Berlin nightlife. I was lucky to meet the awesome Peaches, who took me under her wing and we created together – 15 years later and we are still working together – I like how brave she is and that she allows me to create and experiment.

Why were you drawn to the world of fashion?

Charlie Le Mindu: Through my idols, I loved and still love: Nina Hagen, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Yma Sumac as well as being completely obsessed by The Face magazine at the time. I think it fair to say that sometimes fashion chooses you. 

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process from initial idea to final image? 

Charlie Le Mindu: It depends on the project, for example when working with a choreographer we work collaboratively on the story and I sit in the rehearsal room while they create and I start thinking about the relationships of movement and fabrics and I start sketching. It’s a snowball effect from there developing the designs as the piece develops. 

It's different with hair design, for me I first concentrate on the extremities of a body: the head to the feet, down to the hands as it’s what frames the body. I look at how clothes sit on the body and how I can translate a feeling or story into the hair to complete the silhouette. 

“For me, the hair is the full stop – the face is the start, the clothes are the story, and the hair is the things that brings everything together” – Charlie Le Mindu 

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to ‘beauty’ (whatever that word means to you)?

Charlie Le Mindu: Beauty is subjective and it’s personal to everyone – what’s beautiful to me may not be to someone else, but it doesn’t make it any less of value to me. I believe that everyone has the right to decide how they want to look – if you only knew the conversations I’ve had with my plastic surgeon. 

We often tie emotional upheaval in our lives to drastic hair decisions. Why do you think we have such an emotional relationship with our hair?

Charlie Le Mindu: It’s hilarious but I love it. Most of the time changes are necessary and more often than not people make decisions based on trends, celebrity – remember ‘the Rachel’? It wasn’t for everyone. There is a science to having the right hairstyle…  

What should a hairstyle bring to a look or fashion image?

Charlie Le Mindu: For me, the hair is the full stop – the face is the start, the clothes are the story, and the hair is the things that brings everything together. 

Is there a project or moment that you’re most proud of?

Charlie Le Mindu: 2019 was pretty epic, I did not stop designing. It was great with a mix of fashion, dance and beauty. A treasured fashion moment for me was reuniting with my good friend Anna Trevelyan, we used to live next to each other in London and now are a block away in NYC.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?

Charlie Le Mindu: There are so many possibilities in techniques because of technology and we can push boundaries so far. The only thing is that we see so much cheap-looking stuff on social networks, that the value of taste in my thought has come down for a lot of people. There is so much visual pollution online and I don’t think this is helping the world of beauty.

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?

Charlie Le Mindu: I have lots of young hairdressers that ask me this question: first study the industry, study history, art and subjects to draw reference from and to, hone your skills, develop ideas, be confident, and stay committed to a fast world that is ever changing.

What are you currently working on?

Charlie Le Mindu: I just finished Art School and am in Paris now for Walter van Beirendonck and Maisie Willen – for the first part of the year it is all about fashion in Europe and then NYC, beyond that, it is exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing what’s to come in 2020! 

What is the future of beauty?

Charlie Le Mindu: I hope it moves in the direction of breaking down constructs and challenging ‘the norm’ – be messy, be inclusive and be for everyone!