Meet The Wig Expert Behind Drag Race UK Contestants’ Epic Wigs
If you’re a long-time viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll know it takes charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to make it on the show. And it just so happens the same traits are needed to create the epic drag queen wigs.
Here, professional wig artist Chanel Murray spills the tea on the incredible wig looks behind RuPaul’s Drag Race UK contestants past and present and how she began her career.
Where did your wig making journey begin?
A year after graduating from the London College of Fashion, I got my first job on the West End musical, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. It was here I began not only styling wigs for the show but also learning how to style wigs for the queens. My wig Father, Mark Marson, taught me all I needed to know and it stemmed from there. He used to perform for the London Globe girls back in the ’90s then became a hair stylist.
You’ve worked with some of the UK’s biggest drag queen names, how did you start out creating and styling their wigs?
I began styling wigs for La Voix a few years ago and built up a client base through the years. At the beginning of the pandemic after the closure of the theatres I focused on building a client base through Instagram and there I began engaging with past, current, and future RuPaul contestants.
Can you share some of the names of drag queens that you have worked with?
I’ve worked with La Voix, Crystal, Vinegar Strokes and A’whora.
Can you tell us about your favourite/most difficult drag queen wig that you’ve worked on?
I’d probably say the Georgian era style I recently recreated, similar to the style made iconic by Mary Antoinette. For this I didn’t use a cage which is ideal to create the base shape but instead I created my own padding as it needed to be a quick turnaround. I have always wanted a reason to recreate this style and I wanted to capture as many of the intricate details and make it not only for drag but something that would have perhaps been worn back in that era.
How do you make sure that a wig style will stay in place for a performance?
The upside-down shake test! Once I have secured the hairstyle In place, whether it be with clips and grips or just hair products, I’ll take the block from the stand, hold it upside down and shake it to check it stays in place. Then I’ll amend any bits that need it.
What makes a good wig?
A full knotted front lace wig, specially made to fit the head of the client or a performer. The quality of the hair is always important to get a long-lasting wear out of a wig.
When drag queens commission you to create their wigs, where do you start?
They usually contact asking if I can create a look they are after. Then we’ll discuss if they’re looking for a restyle on a wig of their own or a brand new wig that’ll need to be cut to style.
Throughout the process I’ll show them pictures and videos of the style before it’s finalised so that they can let me know their thoughts and of any amendments that need to be made.
How long does it take to create a wig?
Usually over a few days all depending on what needs to be done and what style is required. It always takes longer if the wig needs to be cleaned. I usually like to let synthetic wigs dry naturally as heat ruins them over time. Also, most of my wigs are dry set with rollers, then wet set with a steamer and dried in a hot box, once that is done I usually like for it to sit and cook on the rollers for 24 hours so that it keeps its shape.
How do you advise drag Queens to care for and maintain their wigs?
Placing the wig either in a fabric net or on a block once it has been styled will keep it from being knocked or rubbed against anything, keeping the style intact. Usually when you buy a brand-new wig it will come with a care leaflet. These are really helpful to know how much heat the wig can take and best way to wash a wig. The most important tool for synthetic wigs is a fabric steamer. These work wonders to release any teasing and hairspray before the washing process and also to get the hair silky smooth after a wash.
Where do you get your inspiration from for wig ideas?
I take inspiration from classic drag, which was very big and bold, and either put a modern or vintage twist on it. I also take inspiration from many films and tv shows particularly fantasy, as they have usually taken heavy reference from a time period but then explored it with their own artistic flair.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by many hair stylist and queens that style hair too. I particularly admire the work of the London wig styling company Wig Chapel. Their styles are unique and so beautifully put together.
What’s your favourite part about creating drag queen wigs?
I have a love-hate relationship with extremely long hair wigs. They are very challenging especially if they are old and synthetic as they are prone to knotting up which requires lots of patience, but the end result is very rewarding and people are often in awe of long hair.
How has the demand for drag queen wigs changed during the Covid-19 pandemic?
It’s definitely increased, as I think a lot of drag queens are planning ahead to when they can finally get back to gigs. Also, with how social media has influenced entertainment there is always the need to dress up and continue to stay glam at home in front of a camera.
Want more drag queen inspiration? Check out some of our favourite drag queen wig looks.