Dan W Chapman is a hairstylist, wig designer, and owner of LGBTQ+ Riah Hair Studios, Brighton UK, with nine years of hairdressing experience under his belt. He has worked across multiple music videos, fashion campaigns, catwalk shows, and styling wigs for drag queens and burlesque performers in Brighton and London, UK. His wigs have recently appeared on the popular TV Show Drag Race UK. In this interview, we discuss what inspired him to become a drag wig stylist.
Indulge in the artistic world of drag wig design with Dan W Chapman
How did you get into drag wig styling?
Dan W Chapman: I was lucky enough to work with the drag queen, Joe Black, on season 2 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK. I was friends with him and was doing fashion wigs, so he asked me to do his drag wigs. When we got Joe prepared, we wanted 4 or 5 signature looks, easily adaptable to multiple looks. He loved them so much he kept coming back. And then people started asking him who did his wigs, and my name spread like wildfire on the drag scene.
What qualities do you need as a wig designer?
Passion. If you love what you’re doing, you don’t get frustrated with it; you keep going until it’s right. Also, you need a basic knowledge of hair. And creativity is vital; seeing what you want to create, knowing your inspirations from other mediums, and then being patient enough to put in the work.
Wig styling is a fantastic thing for all hairstylists to try. As a hairdresser, you always have someone telling you what they want, but you have no one telling you any rules and saying it’s not practical when you work on a wig. I recommend all stylists to have a go – buy a wig, real hair or fake, and practice some different styles – what’s the worst that could happen?!
Dan W Chapman’s Wig Styling Tips
Do you love styling drag wigs?
Yes, drag itself has reached an extraordinary level. It’s all about who can create the best look. It’s an art form. To make a gown, do the hair, makeup, and deliver the character as well – that’s an impossible task. Ru Paul’s platform has given queer drag queens isn’t just a platform for performers; it’s now getting wig stylists, designers, and makeup artists recognition. Ru Paul’s makeup artist Raven has just won an Emmy for makeup. Other people in their crafts are being judged on their merit. Drags often don’t style their wigs themselves now; they go to the professionals – it’s all about the team. It’s so community-based – in the two years I’ve done it, I’ve realized that. It’s incredible.
What’s the process of styling a drag queen?
I have a fashion styling background in clothes, so I enjoy the process of making a wig for someone that works with their overall look. Firstly, we discuss what outfit they’re going for, the concept behind it, what silhouette they want, etc. then decide how we can elevate the look with the hair. Hair is the first thing that people look at, so it’s essential. I’m not just a wig designer; I’m a drag stylist, meaning I create sculptures that people can wear – it’s conceptual hair and fashionable hair. I’m very hands-on in my approach.
What’s your favorite wig to work?
I first started in real hair wig styling for catwalk shows, working with colored wefts on models. It was entirely editorial and avant-garde. Then, when I got into drag wigs, I did more hardware pieces – these wigs are rock solid, you can’t brush them out. I’ve just done some fashion week that you could wear riding a motorbike and not have to wear a helmet!
There’s a lovely drag etiquette in that queens help queens; they help out the creative community.
What products do you use?
I use household materials to make my sculptured wigs stiff, using padding and geisha techniques. I like to pick from different areas. I use silicone-based and PVA products that you wouldn’t necessarily look at for real hair wigs.
With real hair wigs, it’s a different kettle of fish. For styling, you use a lot of heating and cooling processes – as well as making sure you’ve got good serums and oils. There are plenty of proper real hair wig shampoos that are good.
When you’re working with synthetic wigs, it’s best not to think about them like hair. Soaking them in comfort softener, then rinsing them, and brushing them out is a great way to get rid of knots.
Every wig has a shelf life, even styled wigs – the bounce isn’t going to last. But you can keep them going for a good while if you look after them – brush them carefully, wash them after 3 or 4 years.
Do you have any specific wig styling tips?
When it comes to wig styling, it’s similar to the fashion world in that you look at portions of the overall look. For example, if it’s big at the bottom, you want it big at the top; you want to create hourglass shapes, so you’ve got symmetry.
You need to create a good hairline for a wig; see how high it needs to be, cut the lace front smoothly and flatter the face shape. For example, with a round face, it’s good to bring details out around the front. It’s also good to have natural hair color roots on a wig to make it look more realistic. Hairdressing techniques apply just as much to wig work; you’re just doing it on a larger and more theatrical scale.
Do you have a loyal drag customer base?
Yes, because I have a strong niche. My aesthetic is that I create sculptures. There are some things I don’t do – like pageant drag queen hair. That’s when I refer queens to other stylists; I know people who’re great at huge, classic drag wigs. There’s a lovely drag etiquette in that queens help queens; they help out the creative community. If you want a specific type of dress or wig, there will be a particular designer you can go to.