For over four decades, Angela Cobbin has been crafting amazing wigs for London’s biggest theater stars, working on such famous productions as Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar and Mary Poppins, to name a few. some.
Angela started as a hairdresser in Brighton in the early 1960s, after being warned of a volatile and time-consuming career in show business by her parents, who themselves worked in the theater industry.
After a while, hairstyling became “a little tedious” for Angela, who originally wanted to be a full-time artist.
For a change of pace, she went to work in a wig shop in Brighton, and while there she came across a book about 18th century wigs that really inspired her.
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It made her realize that hairstyling could be an art form and she immediately knew what she wanted to do.
It wasn’t long before Angela left for London to begin learning the trade of a wig maker, soon finding herself at the famous Madame Tussauds wax museum working on the Chamber of Horrors, which houses the wax works of the most criminals. most notorious in history.
The rest, as they say, is history, and she has now worked with some of the biggest names in film and theater on some of the most incredible productions of the past forty years.
Angela’s little black book of famous faces who have worn her wigs is extensive, including names such as Joan Collins, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Raquel Welch and Mick Jagger, and her wigs have been seen on stage across London from the National Theater to the West End.
Now 75, the talented wigmaker has just released a book – My Name Is Not Wigs – which is packed with behind-the-scenes details, from the long and complex process of making a wig to celebrity clients and what it’s like. was to travel. the world with his work.
The name of the book comes from a time when, in her twenties, she worked as a wig fitter for the ladies’ choir at the Royal Opera House.
In the box, the women – about thirty in number – shouted “wigs!” across the room when they were ready to be installed. Angela got fed up with them not calling her by her name, so told them, “My name’s not wigs, it’s Angela!”
The process of making wigs
“My day starts here in my studio at the top of the house at seven in the morning,” said Clapham Common-based Angela, describing a typical working day.
“So I might have to go to the theater, if they’re doing their technical rehearsals, and be there all day – probably until maybe ten o’clock at night. That’s quite a long day.”
Making the wigs themselves typically takes a week to 10 full-time work days, Angela says, and they’re usually made with real human hair that needs to be provided with the root still attached so it sits naturally.
“First you need to get a model of a person’s head. You measure from the front of the hairline around the head, from the temple to the ear, then back neck,” she said.
“You then put it together with a very fine lace and you choose the particular color for the color of hair that you are going to put in it.
“The choice of hair then has to be made, you mix the colors and you start to tie it into the lace – it’s kind of a loop, you pull the hair through with what looks like a little fish hook.
“It’s one hair at a time, [and] you can only imagine how much hair goes into a wig. I guess you can return the wig in about a week to ten days.”
This is the general technique she uses for every wig she makes, whether she creates extravagant and towering period wigs like the one worn by Joan Collins in the 1999 film The Clandestine Marriage, or natural looks for Fantine in Les Miserables.
Even after spending the better part of two weeks creating a single wig, Angela spends hours in technical rehearsals to ensure the wig sits exactly on the performer’s head and looks completely natural and comfortable.
“One thing that often crosses my mind when I watch is whether [the wigs] move properly, if the hair moves, swings naturally, especially if it dances,” she said.
“One of the most important things for me is that the hair should not be on the face – very often someone can be in profile and you want to see their face. There is nothing more irritating for me than to see hair falling out, obscuring someone’s face.”
“It should all be part of the story or the play you’re watching,” she added.
“You shouldn’t notice, you don’t want to think, ‘That wig, isn’t it pretty?’ or ‘Isn’t that awful?’ – it just has to flow. It has to look very natural.”
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The magic behind the scenes
If you’ve been to the theater in London in the past few decades, chances are you’ve seen a wig made by Angela – but as with anything behind the scenes, the impressive costume design is rarely put on. in the projector.
“We don’t want to destroy the magic of theater or film, but it’s good for people to know that we’re a huge group of people behind the scenes who put this show together,” Angela said.
“All the know-how that goes into it – a lot of hard work, training – that’s what I think, usually people don’t even think about. The work that goes on behind the scenes is huge, to make editing these productions and running them, especially the really big productions.
“It takes a long time, it takes a long time – weeks, months, it depends on the size of the production.”
Needless to say, all that hard work is definitely paying off, and Angela has loved every second of her work so far. She’s been around the world, traveling to Japan, America and more for work – “you make lots of friends and visit places you might never have visited”, she said. she stated.
Our conversation ends on a relevant and critical note, as Angela issues a warning about the future of the theater industry post-Covid. She’s had a fantastic career in show business, along with thousands of other talented people, and “it would be such a shame if that went down.”
“We are trying to keep it operational, but it’s very difficult at the moment,” she said.
“It’s very important to me that people can continue to come to the theater and that the craft continues. It would be very sad to lose that – Britain is known for having the best stage, the best theatre, the best actors, all.
“It’s a lot of fun working in this industry. In some ways it’s not work at all if you love what you do. We have to get it going again. Hopefully that will happen this year. “
My Name Is Not Wigs by Angela Cobbin is published by Brown Dog Books and is available online and in all good bookstores.
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