Wigging Out: Talking to Sia’s Stylists About the Making of Her Iconic Look
What does it take to make sure the 'This Is Acting' singer stays hidden (and doesn't have a bad hair day)?
After today, chances are you’ll be hearing a lot of Sia, as the singer’s seventh album, This Is Acting, the follow-up to 2014’s smash 1000 Forms of Fear, drops everywhere. But it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen her. Throughout the widely publicized promotional cycle for Fear, Sia Furler hid behind a blonde bob wig that obscured her face, complicating pretty much every single one of her public appearances — a trend she’s continuing for This Is Acting. The decision, Sia explained to Interview Magazine last spring, was meant to help preserve her privacy. Though not being able to show off their star initially scared away record labels, Sia has turned her hairstyle into an icon — with a little help.
Tonya Brewer is responsible for Sia’s “everyday wigs,” and has been Sia’s hairstylist and makeup artist since the singer and her frequent collaborator, 13-year-old Dance Moms breakout star Maddie Ziegler, first appeared on Ellen in May of 2014. The standard blonde bob that covers most of her face tends to come mostly pre-made from outlets like Patricia Field, but requires tailoring before Sia can wear it. Same goes for the wigs that folks like Ziegler, Shia LaBeof, Jimmy Fallon, Natalie Portman, and Kristen Wiig have worn as they’ve acted as Sia stand-ins or imitators. “Obviously nobody’s face shape is the same,” Brewer says. “So everything’s cut to fit.”
Brewer’s done a lot of trimming — every TV appearance and music video gets its own toupee. Almost all of the wigs she’s made for Sia currently reside in the sunroom of Brewer’s Los Angeles home. “I have to start charging for rent,” she jokes. “They’re taking over my house.” She inscribes a secret, personalized message written inside the cap of every wig to help send the famously nervous performer some good juju before each show. “I want it to subconsciously seep into her brain that she’s amazing and she doesn’t need to even think about anything,” Brewer explains.
For more elaborate wigs, more drastic means may be required than just trimming and personalizing a sweet note. “Frankensteining them together is probably the best way to put it,” Brewer says. “Sia will have an idea and I kind of bring it to life. So it’s about taking the texture of one wig and maybe tweaking it a little bit. The wig that I’m working on now, it’s probably nine wigs sewn together, cut up. It’s an all-day affair.”
Perhaps Sia’s most spectacular headpiece was the massive, yeti-like postiche she sported as she walked the red carpet at last year’s Grammy Awards. Sia and her husband, filmmaker Erik Anders Lang, thought up the idea for a giant wig, one that would stand out on the carpet while still doing its main job of hiding her face, and sought an artisan to bring it to life. Mishelle Parry, another hairstylist who used to do Sia’s styling before scheduling conflicts got in the way, accepted the challenge.
She started with a single, standard bob wig — a far cry from the giant frizzle it eventually became. “I needed to lengthen to the front to cover her face and then I needed to pump it up, like, times a million,” Parry recalls. (A note on an early concept sketch confirms this hyperbolic figure.) From there it was “a lot of layering and sewing, and layering and sewing it,” she explains, having stitched it all by hand. “I bought about 15 to 16 different wigs and just cut ‘em up and reconstructed them. It was pretty cathartic.”
The final result — with the help of some volumizing product that didn’t disappoint and a chic Giorgio Armani outfit — was certainly one of the biggest hits of the night. Memorable looks are key for Sia, as by wigging out to protect her privacy, she’s also blocking out a major form of connection with her audience. When there’s no eye contact, striking iconography is crucial.
“When you’re not showing your face, you’re literally becoming an object,” notes Samantha Burkhart, Sia’s main fashion stylist, who has a background in fine arts. “I don’t want to necessarily say objectifying herself because that’s kind of incorrect, but you become inanimate in a way.” With her recognizable yet mysterious hairstyle and occasional reinvention — like the split black-and-white wigs she’s donning for the This Is Acting cycle — Sia’s managed to find a way to resonate with fans while concealing herself.
“The major difference with Sia is that she is truly being Sia, except she created a rule that helps to protect her identity,” Burkhart says. “But now she’s a pop star, as well. There’s always this kind of tension between those two things. We want it to be fun, we want it to be playful, and we also want it to be serious. It’s not a gimmick.”
“Gimmick” is a tricky word here. Sia herself called her wig a gimmick in an interview last spring, but Burkhart and the other stylists who work with the elusive singer seem to have a different interpretation of what she meant by that. Sure, the wig’s a gimmick in that it’s a means to an end, but having achieved their goal of privacy, the bob isn’t just a flippant accessory. It’s become an integral part of her character as an artist and performer — though the perceived schtick is not without its criticism.
Sia’s true face isn’t some grand secret only to be unveiled when Scooby and the gang pluck an oversized wig from her head. A basic Google search will turn up dozens of photos of her, but there are still questions about what the 40-year-old is hiding. Privacy, it would seem, is a big ask for a celebrity pop star. Especially, Burkhart notes, as a woman, because questions about what’s underneath her getup read differently than curiosities about what Daft Punk and Deadmau5 look like underneath their masks. “Like, is there this expectation with the female pop star that they need to give us more or be more available to us?” she asks.
But while voyeurs are relentless in their dogged pursuit to brush back Sia’s bangs, the songwriter, stoically, remains unchanged — or at least that’s the impression the wig gives off. Though she and her team, with weaves and bows, find ways to experiment and keep things fresh while staying within the constraints of the wig, it remains a singular symbol. A statement piece that, paradoxically, exists so that the music can speak for itself.
Photos courtesy of Mishelle Parry