Hair of the Future

Zhou Xue Ming explores otherworldly structures and techniques in his crafty hair designs

Land on the Instagram account of Zhou Xue Ming and you’ll be instantaneously enamoured, scrolling and pausing – with curious hesitation – as you start to question the process behind each of his creations. A hair designer by title, Shanghai-based Xue Ming is more of an artist-stroke-wizard as he expels his craft on the artful placement of a do, from the decoratively lavished to the perfectly coiffed. Proving that there’s more to hair than hair itself, Xue Ming has been working in the industry for almost 10 years now. And ever since his first hairdo, he’s since been published on the covers of Nylon China and Modern Weekly Style, and has collaborated with an abundance of makeup artists, from Shuo Yang at Jonathan Makeuplab to Yooyo Keong Ming. 

Xue Ming’s impact is mammoth, not least in the creative application of colour but also in the use of materials. It’s not just hair that’s incorporated into these designs, for there’s also the unexpected addition of metallics, wires, peacock-like feathers, spikes or a material that appears like the cracks in a frosted lake. With a vast “enthusiasm for artificial hair”, he tells me, it’s no surprise that his portfolio succeeds in pushing the boundaries as to what can be worn on the top of a head. Sadly, we’re not going to be getting any answers as to how he makes his pieces – “this is my little secret” – so instead, we invite you to marvel and leave the methodology to the imagination.

One of the most recurring motifs of Xue Ming’s is the periwig, known as a highly styled wig worn on formal occasions, often sported by judges or barristers as part of their professional attire. Explicitly artificial, these wigs usually tend to have unmissable height and weight to them, placed atop a head in a composed and careful manner. The periwig was most popular from the 17th to the early 19th century, typically composed from long hair with curls on the sides. The colours are usually dyed in more realistic hues, whereas Xue Ming’s are quite the opposite. 

In fact, Xue Ming’s take on the periwig is widely juxtaposed with the more traditional concept of the wig. In one design, the hair appears like an explosion of fireworks with its vibrant yellow tones and splaying textures – the type that makes you want to reach out and touch, even though it looks like it could burn you. Others are more multi-toned and soft, displaying a palette of blush pink, sky blue, purple and sunshine yellow; while some – with pointy edges similar to a sea urchin – look completely unwearable. Or so you’d think. Not too long ago, the designer worked with a “young lady called ‘Princess’”, wherein he was “pasting posters with ‘princess’ cartoon images to prepare the periwig”. He ended up covering the entire periwig with these posters; “I was really interested to see the result”.

The work is a wonderful merging of old and new, where traditional headgear has been transformed, warped and lavished in the modern style and technique of Xue Ming. You can easily see some of the silhouettes being worn in the past, most likely the Regency era, while others are drawn from a far-reaching trend found in the future. Perhaps he’s ahead of his time, and world of hair might become little more creative in the years to come.


The Nairobi-based multidisciplinary artist creates worlds of inexplicable beauty 

Presence and absence – Joel 2021

There’s something rather exponential about the work of Shitanda, a multidisciplinary artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Open to interpretation and riddled with passion for craft, each image resonates with power, storytelling and a careful consideration of tactility. You’re not quite sure how or where these images are made, or what they’re suggesting in their complex form and visuals. But that’s exactly what Shitanda strives to achieve in his work; an allusive feeling that sings to a distance memory, time and place. 

From grainy textures to experimental shadow play, Shitanda’s painterly pieces are produced with a vintage-like quality. He lenses subjects adorned in fashion and places them amongst a coloured backdrop or setting, each littered with intrigue and an artistic language that’s “unexplainably beautiful”. Here, I chat to Shitanda to find out more about his evocative practice.

Mind and body -Juma 2021

What drew you towards photography over other creative media?

Well I can’t really say I chose photography over other media. It’s been a journey of constantly exploring different channels that allow me to visually translate my thoughts and mental experiences. At first, I was particularly drawn to photography because it allowed me to visually experience and relive moments that I was physically present or absent from. I’ve always been fascinated by the thought that I can’t rewind time, but photographs allow me to do so mentally. It’s thrilling to experience that soft nostalgia.

Overtime, photography gave me the chance to present my world to people and, in turn, I also get to experience the minds of those I photograph. A moment when we’re blind to any constraints that reality creates. It’s absolutely beautiful to watch someone reach out to cross that unseen line that separates their fantasies from reality. The honesty, the rawness, the vulnerability, the freedom to touch your dreams and the shared goal of creating something beautiful by our own terms is simply breathtaking. 

Mind and body – Phoebe 2020

You’ve developed this immensely cinematic and nostalgic quality throughout your work. What’s influenced you to work this way?

The images are a visual representation of what I think my perception of life would look like if it was an object. Unclear, rough, uncertain, textured but sometimes difficult to feel, yet still so unexplainably beautiful. It’s like a silent noise that evokes a sense of nostalgia for a time and place I’m yet to experience.

How do you go about creating one of your photographs – what tools or methods do you use?

I don’t really have a particular way of making my pieces. I allow my mind to wander and settle where it feels most at home. Every image will carry its own emotion. Sometimes I’ll take photographs and think ‘I need to destroy these’, sometimes I’ll keep them for months without doing anything to them. And other times, I’ll take some and think ‘this story is complete’. I see them as paintings or poems, not to be rushed or overly controlled. 

La femme noire – Phoebe 2020

Can you talk me through a favourite piece?

The face of anxiety is an unwritten love letter to the minds that were never meant to be understood. Those that present their own kind of beauty that can’t be explained in words. 

Is there a particular message you’re trying to convey?

The poem Risk by Anaïs Nin: ‘And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’

What’s next for you?

A design space that’s yet to be named, home to the dreamers and an experience for the minds that wander. 

Presence and absence (la femme noire) – Viaana 2019
Rest and the repossession of self – memories of non existent times, Didi 2021
Rest and the repossession of self (Didi unwinds)
The blank page
The singer and the red rose
Presence and absence – Gombek 2021