An exhibition dedicated to the history of hairdressing and hair technology makes its international debut at Barnsley The Civic in February 2018. This unique collaboration between curator, renowned celebrity hair-stylist Andrew Barton and leading fashion research consultant and academic Donna Bevan, will explore the key hair-styles and technological innovations from the 1950s onwards.
From backcombing and teasing to oiling and curling, the question of hair and what to do with it each morning remains a private puzzle, especially for the young.
Next month an exhibition that opens in Barnsley, south Yorkshire, before embarking on a national tour claims to be the first to examine the history of our hair obsession – a preoccupation at least the equal of fashion yet much less documented.
Beehives, Bobs & Blow-dries aims to set that right by covering 50 years of catwalk looks, as well as street trends such as the afro, the backswept rocker’s DA and the use of hair extensions and wigs. It has been curated by stylist Andrew Barton, a former British hairdresser of the year, and Donna Bevan, a fashion research expert, for Gallery@The Civic, in partnership with the venue’s curator, David Sinclair, who worked on Hull’s year as city of culture.
“We want to bring the story of all those changing styles into focus and to look at what it has said about attitudes to gender and – nowadays – to sustainability, which has become very significant,” says Bevan. Her research has revealed the developing economic face of the high-street salon as much as it has confirmed its place at the centre of many communities. “My mother was a hairdresser so I grew up with the business, understanding what it can mean to people,” she says.
Searching in the archives of the Hairdresser’s Journal, Bevan found an intriguing personal piece written by Vidal Sassoon in June 1971 which extols the virtues of joining the European common market. In it he suggests hairdressers should “think internationally, not nationally”. The stylist argues that British hairdressers have a training in cutting that was then scarce on the continent. By opening British-run salons in European cities, he said, it would be possible to capitalise on that skill.
For Bevan, who lectures in fashion at Southampton Solent University, the influence of immigrant communities, the advent of the unisex salon and the emergence of famous stylists have characterised different eras of hairdressing. “Most of the celebrity stylists have been men, it is true, while the majority of hairdressers are, of course, women. That is a balance that has been slow to be redressed.”
The work of Flint Whincop, once a Sassoon academy leader in the 70s, will be saluted in the show because of his contribution to the brand, while the influence of photography, new products and styling tools will also be analysed.
“Hair is often the forgotten link when it comes to charting cultural changes in fashion, and I have been thinking about how it could be recognised for all its worth for a number of years now,” Barton says.
Bevan says she hopes the collaboration with Barton has allowed her to present all the significant sides of hairdressing history – something she believes will help establish that Britain “has trained so many of the key movers and shakers in this industry, who have been setting, tweaking, cutting and blowing the trends from catwalk to street (and back again) over the past 50 years”.
The exhibition runs in Barnsley from 17 February-7 April before touring
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