While our hair never defines us, we all know that it is truly a huge part of who we are as women. Whether you have waist-long waves or just big-chopped, your hair is YOUR hair.
You take the extra time to deep condition, find the perfect stylist to not ruin the pattern when you get it trimmed, avoid heat styling at all costs, use protective styles during bad weather — the list goes on. With as much attention as we give our curls, it's safe to say that we have a long-lasting love affair with them.
Except when they fall out.
All it takes is a clogged shower drain, a stray loose hair on your shirt, or in your food, and we cringe. No matter if the hair is ours (it better be!), we still find disgust and disdain in hair that is no longer on our heads. From intense love affair to good riddance, our curly strands never stood a chance.
In walks, then, Kelly Howley, a recent graduate from Middlesex University in London, who has taken what you once loved and is making you rethink your sudden aversion.
“I’m interested in how materials can affect us. We have emotional response to materials,” says Howley. “Hair is something we take of, but when it’s in the shower plug, it’s something horrible.”
The jewellery and accessories graduate decided to play upon our emotions and see if she could take the discarded and make it beautiful again.
Howley makes hair necklaces. That's right, hair necklaces! Howley used her senior project to create a collection she calls “Attraction/Aversion,” winning her the Museum of Domestic Architecture’s Arthur Silver Award for graduate innovation and excellence, and multiple appearances on NBC, the Discovery Channel, and a spot in the Louvre.
“Like wood or metal, hair is just a material,” Howley says.
Naturally,we had to get the down low on her hairy project, and on her own hair, which is “very curly,” as she says.
Getting to Know Kerry Howley
What is your personal hair story? Do you usually wear your hair straight or curly?
I never straighten it. I don’t really see the point when I can wake up in the morning and put some mousse in my hair and it looks fine. When I straighten it, individual hairs will be straight, but the rest will puff out into a great big Afro. I look like a dandelion. So I don’t even try!
What is your curly hair routine?
I use shampoo once or twice a week, but usually only conditioner. I never brush my hair unless in the shower, and then it is only with my fingers. [Out of the shower], I just tip upside down and put in a mousse. It seems to curl differently every day anyway.
Any particular products you like?
Yes! I don’t know if you have this over there, but Umberto Giovanni. Its all really good, especially their mousse. It doesn’t make my hair crunchy, which is hard to find with a mousse.
How did you become interested in creating necklaces of human hair?
I got my bachelors from Middlesex University in London in Jewellery and Accessories. I’m interested in how materials can affect us. We have emotional responses to materials. Hair is something that we take care of, but when it’s in the shower plug, its something horrible. But it’s just a material, like wood or metal. I like trying to make a discarded item beautiful.
What type of hair do you use?
I started with my friend’s mom who has very long Japanese hair. She agreed to cut some of it off for me to work with. Finer hair is harder, so Asian hair is pretty thick. I’ve also worked with my own hair, which is quite thick. Really fine, blonde hair just breaks.
What are people’s reactions to your pieces?
I’ve had great reactions! They say that it's disgusting but beautiful. They don’t know how they feel about it and that’s exactly what I wanted – to take something people don’t like and have them see it differently.
Tell me about your work appearing in the Louvre. It’s typography, correct?
It’s typography made form human hair on a poster. I was commissioned by a typography company is New York to make it. The men that worked there shaved their heads and sent their hair to me in the post. That’s the thing about doing this – hair is so personal. I can’t make something until someone commissions it.
What’s next for you? Any new projects you are working on?
I graduated in July and I’m applying for a program that commissions five artists a year to do whatever they want. Its perfect for me, but I don’t know if I’ll get in. Smaller scale, I’m going to create items that can be more easily displayed in the home, in shadow boxes. Also, because I have to be commissioned for human hair pieces, and because there is such an emotional investment there, I’m going to start making decorative things from animal fiber instead. People seem to not care when it’s horse hair rather than human hair.
Hair necklaces aren't the only hairy accessories popping up in the UK. Check out these hair shades!
You can find Howley's work on her website and if you want anything, she is open to commissions.