UP IN THE HAIR: Sarah Wood on the link between memory and hair

Model and Influencer Frances O'Sullivan with one of Sarah Wood's wigs

@beautyspock | via Instagram @neciahairstyling

Side-swept curls, beehives, or perhaps more of a pageboy cut; some might suggest that ‚retro‘ hairstyles are once again all the rage, while others have been ardent backers all along.

UK-based wig and hair session stylist Sarah Wood has got us questioning everything we thought we knew about hair, and distinctly changed the game while doing so. Her art deco-infused, retro revival updos have become indispensable to the likes of Dolly Parton, Dita Von Teese, Alexa Demie, and more. With her unique knack for handling a variety of type-specific hairstyles and an endearing giggle, Sarah brings a breath of fresh air to hairstyles of a bygone age. 

We chat about her love for polaroids, feeling like an idiot, how one of her wigs (sported by Beautyspock) became the cover art for an album and recently aired on Jimmy Fallon. She says, “It’s been nuts, like what the fuck”, with emphasis on the latter. Sarah and her friends Gabrielle and Adele (a fully fledged coven, we like to think) jointly run Hood London, a studio space located in Kentish Town. Toward the end of our interview, I quickly ask about her availability for a little session.

Polaroids of Dita von Teese with a beautiful hairdo

Dita Von Teese | via Instagram @neciashairstyling

TUSH: Can you tell us about your origins and how you came to do what you are doing today?

Sarah: I did my hairdressing qualification when I was 16, back then you’d have the mainstream Tony & Guy places. I couldn’t get a job because I was tattooed. That’s how it used to be, which isn’t even that long ago, but a lot of stuff has changed since. It put me off because I kept trying to get a job and ended up thinking that path might just not be for me. I kind of went on a completely different track and ended up working with dementia patients and doing their hair.

How did that come about?

My mum is a stroke nurse, and around the time I was still desperately looking for a job. I sort of had to stick to a somewhat “normal” routine, which didn’t really feel like me, but it paid the bills. I ended up working at a hospital for ten years, end of life dementia. I honestly wouldn’t have put all this effort in if it wasn’t for working with these people. When I got to 30 I had a bit of a meltdown, that’s when I started my Instagram. Then one day, after a twelve-hour shift at the hospital, I received a direct message from Dita von Teese while she was out in Milan. So, I literally just went and did her hair, and that’s how it started.

What was your initial reaction to being DMed by someone as seminal as Dita von Teese?

She is a friend of mine now, and I have so much to thank her for! We’ve got similar tastes and were just following each other. I think I had commented on one of her photos, and she was like, “I really want you to cut my hair because you do horseshoe cuts.”


RuPauls Drag Race contestant with a ginger wig

Jonbers | via Instagram @neciashairstyling

Can you give us an idea of what a “Horseshoe” cut is?

It’s an old-fashioned haircut, which was mostly worn during the 40s and 50s. I remember reading years ago that the horseshoe cut came around because when you’re dancing and jiving, the area around the neck is the hottest part. It’s kind of, shaped around the face, like a 70s bowl cut.

Your work is vastly influenced by classic films and the decades referred to as the „good old days“. What is it that draws you to these eras?

When I was younger, my granddad, had a barber shop, which I always found fascinating. He always brought me and my sister up on old movies. That’s what made me absolutely fall in love with all of that. It always just stuck around. The 1940s are still such a classic era for hair. I feel like it’s artful and everyone had their hair in a certain way. It makes me laugh that it’s not actually taught in schools anymore. When I went to get my hairdressing qualification, we had to learn how to do these classic sets. They’re so versatile as well – you can take a basic set and literally turn it into anything now, just look at Kylie Jenner’s hairdo for the SS23 Schiaparelli show.

"I use setting lotion or styling mousse before I start on my set. That is the memory that you need for your hair."

Dita von Teese in a big and blonde wig
Dita von Teese | lensed by @louiebanksshoots
Poloaroid of Sarah Wood and Dita von Teese
Sarah and Dita | via Instagram @neciashairstyling

Can you talk us through some of your favorite looks, and what response they got?

There’s been a few favorite looks, but I feel like Richard Quinn’s show was pretty mad. And the reaction to that was nuts, I literally did 24 wigs in two weeks, and they were fucking huge. At the time I was like, why the fuck did I think that was a good idea. But it was exciting because the film turned out so amazingly, and it was just such a big achievement for me.

Your portfolio of work is quite extensive. Whose hair do you want to do next?

I’ve been working with dolly on bits here and there for years now. I literally was on facetime for a shoot last night, all I can say is what’s coming next with Dolly is a big deal for me. I’ve cried all week, she’s an absolute icon. I’ve worked so hard to cater this thing where I can collaborate with all these amazing people, it’s mental! I think I would’ve loved to do Prince’s hair. Everything about his looks was just insane, he was someone who pushed boundaries in every way. But I’m always excited about everyone I work with. Currently, I’m really enjoying working with Raye.

There is an ingrained stereotype of hairdressers and -stylists having close friendships with their clients…

I think that’s another thing that working in a hospital taught me. I meet someone and if I gel with them straight away that’s great. At the end of the day, we’re all there to do something creative. There’s no need to be an asshole, which unfortunately, in our work, we come across them sometimes, and I just have to remember what I did before. We all end up in the same foggy place. I’ve been there. I’ve done the hair.

[Words & Interview]
Afra Ugurlu
Februar 9, 2023
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