Merria Dearman has been infiltrating the world of wigs for years. She has created wigs for all purposes imaginable from theater to fashion editorial, for museum exhibitions and for individuals in their daily lives. She’s the go-to for many high profile personalities (whether they be hair personalities or other) to deliver true, uncompromising quality. We had the opportunity to get to know Merria and hear her thoughts on the industry and the practice of wig making.
What is the title of your profession?
I am a hairdresser and Wig Maker! Two titles I think that compliment one another. I often find that hairdressers forget wigs are hair.
What brought you to this area of hair? Were you always interested in wigs as opposed to other hairdressing approaches?
After a couple years assisting in a high-end salon and then going out on the floor I entered Wella Trend Vision in 2006. After placing second and experiencing hair in a more experimental format doing makeup and the hair I decided I wanted to try something different. My boyfriend at the time suggested a film school program at VFS. Two years later I graduated from Vancouver Film School with honors and was very experienced in special effects for film and makeup. I excelled at wig making or ventilating.
I think this area of hair chose me. At the end of the school year, my aunt got cancer. All I could think is why doesn’t she have one of these wigs like we make for film. It would be so much more real, and she would feel so much better. That was the beginning. It went on to be a career in Theater and Film and the salon during the day. Eventually, the public market won.
It seems wearing wigs is deemed more acceptable today than even 5 years ago. Have you noticed a change over time in how people feel about wigs? Are they more popular than 5 years ago?
I think they have been with us always. Take a look at the African American community, who will tell you wigs never went out of style, and have always been acceptable. I have to agree.
A good wig obviously won’t always be noticed or talked about. I think the mainstream is just finally catching up. With celebrities expected to have ever-changing hairstyles, I think the public is finally starting to think, ‘Wait! How did she go from blonde to blue to long to short etc.”
Extensions paved the way for the acceptability of wearing extra hair. I think wigs have made their comeback into the mainstream through this acceptance of added hair. I certainly think it’s a combination of marketing and how fashion trends come in and out with hair as well.
Wigs are also getting better and better in how they are made. Wig making is certainly a much more popular profession now than 5 years ago. Out of film school, I had to bang down doors to get continuing education with wig making, now it’s all over YouTube and Instagram… but buyer and student beware!
The truth is people are losing their hair and experiencing thinning more than ever with things like traction Alopecia and pull stress from styling, and all of the other genetic causes like Cancer and Alopecia. The market needs wigs, and we are talking about it openly at this point.
Has pop culture affected the acceptance of wigs? How?
Definitely! Performers have always integrated pieces or wigs into their look. I think the average woman now looks at these photos and has started to realize that’s not all her hair! I want that, and can have it! If so-and-so can wear added hair, so can I. Pop culture is also far more racially diverse now than ever before. Did you see the recent Grammy’s? I mean… who wasn’t wearing hair?!
In your practice, do you find more people are interested in wigs to maintain a certain look, or for versatility to change their look?
I see everything in my practice. Mostly I deal with hair loss which has the highest demand, as it affects 1 in 6 women. The versatility reason is becoming more common. I find myself doing U-parts and filler pieces or what I call saddles. Larger pieces that are much easier than clip-ins, come off and on and integrate better with your hair. So not full wigs, but what I call custom additions. Toppers for more volume and things like his.
You have high-profile clients, from celebrities to the top magazines. Where are your wigs going? What has set you apart as you grew your clientele?
My business has moved in so many directions. Wig Making can have several career paths as the rest of hairdressing does. I started in Film so I know how to work with the superfine lace used there etc. I do things for film a few times a year, but certainly infrequently, and it’s always gone to set and styled by another hairdresser.
I’ve worked with Mika Rottenburg on a really fun installation of ponytails that bounce off the wall out of what looks like a glory hole. Those have gone all over the world in galleries. I am also collaborating now with an artist friend Elizabeth Jaeger.
Working with editorial has been fun and new. Harry Josh got it all started when we met through his first assistant Jacob Rozenburg and the wig we made for Karlie Kloss on the cover of In Style really kicked me out there with editorial. Then I did a with for Karlie for the Met Gala last year. So now I’ve been having all sorts of requests for things from education to inventory.
Not everyone realizes I make much of it by hand or have it made under my instruction and ALWAYS place the hairline myself. Like some others, I don’t use wigs I buy from China and then modify. Recently I have had the pleasure of working with Shay Ashual, an amazing wig guru himself, and a few others.
The meat of my work is Cancer and Alopecia. I find it the most rewarding and motivating. What sets me apart is I have experience as a hairdresser, am a skilled wigmaker, and have experienced hair loss and all of its complications with clients for more than 9 years. I know the difference between a wig for photos and a wig someone will wear every day, and what attention to detail to give where, in each scenario. I have just done such a variety of work which I think is what has set me apart. My clientele has grown because of my experiences and because I truly care.
It seems that the quality of lace wigs today is much higher than it was 10 years ago. Would you agree with this? How had the quality changed due to materials, technology, and techniques?
It may sound redundant, but absolutely. Manufacturers have learned to do the full lace wigs, although the knots aren’t very pretty. Often double split knots. If you want to know what that means I would inquire about a class 🙂
But there are still limitations with the quality of wigs available, and the quality of hair is totally unpredictable. I think hair quality was much better 10 years ago. So many more people are buying hair these days and just starting companies with no real knowledge of what they are selling that the resulting product is not the best. The hair has become so diluted, processed, and unregulated. It is mixed with all kinds of stuff and then covered with sealers.
Fun fact… I saw some girl post a picture of curly hair on a weft for her new wig and hair company on Instagram. It said, “Virgin hair… un-treaded double drawn. This curl won’t tangle!” If I showed you the picture any hairdresser would know that it was not a natural curl pattern. Far to perfect. It’s boiled people!… boiled for hours. On rods. And the curl will drop eventually… That would be processed hair. Treated hair. Compromised hair. Boiling is a process to change the hair. Then they say Remy and the cuticle have been removed… don’t get me started.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. So nowadays the cap can be more realistic, but no one knows what they are looking at when it comes to the hair.
Do you think there is a growing trend in wig making? How has social media played a role in this?
YES! Social media for sure! Look at my friend @Hairsay514. Some girl tweeted his account and I watched 30k people follow him in one week. It’s amazing to see hairlines that you think are heads and are handmade on a canvas block. Instagram gives us the opportunity to show how insane our skill is. Tying one hair at a time ain’t easy folks! And making a whole wig… it takes so much focus.
So yes, Instagram has given us a platform and helped people discover a kind of rare skill set that is out there. I LOVE IT! Very exciting to see people learn what the craft is and get into it.
Explain the general process for the process with a new client. How long does it take?
The client starts by coming in for a consultation. That is about an hour. We decide on hair, density, texture, color etc. Then I make a mold and take measurements. Photos are taken of the client if necessary or we have reference photos for the build. We drape and build the foundation and begin ventilation. The build takes 60-70 hours if done in a way we don’t have to rush.
Then the client comes back for a fitting. We cut lace on the hairline, and maybe do a little color on the root and cut it in. They are walked through putting it on and off and how to store it.
In two weeks we follow up with them see how it’s going. We walk through questions and show them the proper way to wash their wig. We like to follow up again in 3 weeks to make sure all is well. Right now that is 8-10 weeks to finish, from sourcing the hair to completion or fitting.
I am not the only builder for my business, I have other ventilators to help at this point. We are growing so much. If a client wants something quick because of hair loss we can take a stock wig and re-do a hairline or the entire crown, color, cut, and adjust so they can have it in less than a week if needed. We are in the process of developing pre-made or manufactured items for a quicker turnaround, something that I have designed.
What is the most difficult thing about custom wig making?
Wig making is extremely time-consuming. The required attention to detail is high and it takes a lot of focus and patience. Sometimes a client wants to see their hair growing out of their head. The expectation is high they want it overnight, and I want nothing more to make them feel like it’s growing out of their head. The psychology of it can be challenging in addition to the art.
Have you come across any surprising issues?
EVERYDAY! It’s a book this question. Hahaha
What has been your most rewarding hair moment?
My Aunt. It still makes me cry. I fixed her manufactured wig for my mom’s 60th birthday when she was going through cancer treatment. I will never think of a better feeling than that of making someone going through such a horrible disease feel better, even if just for a few hours if I could.
She came to me and told me to do this with my life… it changed my life in the best way.
Who would be your dream client to make a wig for?
Oh wow. I don’t think I have a dream person in mind. I love working on anyone who it truly helps get up and out the door and living their lives.
We are here to enjoy and embrace life. The pain and the shame in hair loss are much greater than people realize. And may I say as well if people could be bald and happy that would be great as well, but this isn’t always the case. I want my clients to be happy. That’s my dream client, someone who wants to be happy.
Are there any hairdressers or wig masters that you admire?
Nikki Piazza, Kenneth, Shireem Samii, Stacey Butterworth, Shay Ahsual, Donna Biss, Jimmy Paul, Maurice Neuhaus, Sam McKnight, Sam Cox. This is a never-ending list.
This may sound strange, but I like old hairdressers. I like people who have been at it for 40 years. Barbers… whatever. The trends and changes they have seen can’t compare to a person with less experience. All the different tools, products, backcombing, wave setting, perms, all of it. They have such a wealth of knowledge.
I have walked into shops in Brooklyn and just sat and watch people cut hair or roll hair or braid hair. I will go anywhere. You don’t have to be famous or young to be insanely talented and inspiring. We often overlook that talent.
Any advice for people interested to try wearing wigs?
Yes… call me. Again I see a book coming on.
Any tips for people going into chemotherapy who know they will be getting a wig?
This feels huge. There are so many people out there selling whatever they can to cancer patients. My best advice is to ask your hairdresser for recommendations. Or go to a hairdresser who can find you a wig and cut it for you. Do the best they can. Without someone who understands hair, I think it will be hard to get a good result. Many stylists I know will go to their client’s house to work with them.
With chemotherapy, the hair loss generally starts 10-14 days after your first treatment so start early. Find your person. And if you want to find the wig first then you can hunt down someone who wants to help prepare it for you. You shouldn’t do it alone.
What advice would you give to a young hairdresser interested in wig making?
Well, it’s a whole career. So if you feel like you’ve got hairdressing under your belt, think of wig making as another beauty school. You have to learn to build and do the fundamentals, then you have to apprentice. The two go together wonderfully, but it’s a commitment.
Just like becoming a hairdresser, wig making is not a side gig. Often people come and are like ‘I want to make wigs!’ When I tell them to set aside at least a year, and they generally run.
If you want to be a wig stylist no problem. I can give you a class on styling and modifications. But if you want to make entire wigs properly, so they fit and look good, it’s going to take time.
How do you envision the future of wig making?
I think wig making will become more of a clear career path.
The North Carolina School of the Arts has an amazing program. You get a BA. It takes you through the technical as well with theater and performance and design. They have introduced a medical side as well. I trained and still go to my main mentor for help. He was in-house wig making at Kenneth’s for years. It used to be in the salons and totally hand done and custom. I see it going back into the salon. How they have extension specialists, I think we will have wig specialists again.
I’m doing my best to create that clear path and standard to help the industry grow in that much-needed area. The demand won’t fall back and I don’t think manufacturing can do anything as custom as color and cut from a trained, talented, individual. That’s for us hairdressers. A good wig stylist, as we all know, can fool you with a $25 wig at times just by knowing what to do with it. And if you give them really well-made wig it’s even better.
Do you teach? Can you tell us what you teach and details about your classes?
I have been taken on students on a case by case basis. They basically apprentice and then I keep working with them as they start to use and make wigs on their own. I train my staff of ventilators who already have gone through schools like North Carolina School of the Arts or other programs stemming from theater and film. I’m looking into doing classes with you all! I have taught with Rene Furterer doing basics of wigs, wig styling, editorial styling, coloring wigs. I want to teach the full spectrum of elements involved.
With actual wig making, I am pretty selective about who I take on. It’s a long relationship and a lot of work. On that note, we are working with a couple London based wig makers who will be teaching some basics if you are motivated on your own. Just how to build a foundation or cap and ventilating basics. Not to be confused with a full wig making course.
How can future clients or student get in touch with you?
HAR by Merria Dearman
414 East 58th St. Ground Floor New York, NY 11217