Have you ever seen a Portuguese man o’ war? Half translucent and balloon-like, with purple-blue tentacles and pneumatophores spreading like a fan; seemingly harmless, these bluebottles are, in fact, venomous.
This wig looks just like a Portuguese man o’ war – bordering the real and the fake.
“The first time I saw a picture of a Portuguese man o’ war, I couldn’t believe it: this is what I’ve been making!”
Tomihiro Kono grew up in a small village in southern Ehime, where he used to play Treasure Island with his friends. He would never forget the feeling of running without a care; every touch and every texture from memory – plants, marine life, and birds – became a source of inspiration for his practice.
“My childhood has had a huge influence on my thoughts and practice – there’s no shortage of inspiration from nature,” The omnipresence of nature manifests a spatial concept, a way of contextualising one’s needs, one’s distance from another – and from things. Life rose around his island like a sea, and there he was, swimming.
“I used to go to the hair salon a lot when I was little. But my first serious discussion of style with my hairdresser only occurred when I was 13 or 14. It was fascinating,” Perhaps lending special weight to a first impression, like we all do, Kono grew passionate about hair – and what went on there. He delved right into the art of making head props and hats, and eventually wigs. All of that from a single spark.
A spark from whence a long thread elongated.
Kono moved to Tokyo in his twenties, where he apprenticed in a hair salon. Armed with a decade of experience, he realised his dream of moving to London in 2007. There, he saw how individualism breathed life into an extraordinary wealth of culture. Eager to take it all in, he wrapped himself in every interaction, every collision of minds. Five years flew by like it was yesterday.
Fresh off the boat in London, Kono brought his handmade head props to Old Spitalfields Market every week for sale. One day, he was approached by Jónsi, frontman of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, and his partner Alex, who wished to wear Kono’s hats in their music video. Kono later became a session hair stylist and began his career across fashion, photography, and magazine. In 2005, he started making head props for Junya Watanabe’s fashion shows, which paved way for future collaborations and gradually turned Kono into a household name. Recently, he created a wig for Björk – yet another longtime dream come true.
“It’s always the most interesting to work with people. Beyond an opportunity to create, it’s also an opportunity to be inspired through interaction,” Kono later moved from London to New York, where cultural diversity and individual wants were even more vibrant, and where wigs were more commonplace, especially compared with Japan and Hong Kong. Moving between cities was an experience of living different energies and of collecting inspiration.
“I’ve always wanted to create on a blank canvas, like painters do. Then I realised it’s very difficult to achieve as a hairstylist; I can only create with my model’s hair, which is really more of an arrangement than creation,” Experiments made clear to him where he was unsatisfied, or trapped, “I’m always starting from scratch, weaving from scratch, braiding from scratch,” From creating the base through stitching each hair to the weft, the process probably does not even involve any thought of style per se. “The preparation before the actual creation is a long and dull process; it usually takes months to create a wig that I’m totally happy with.”
Kono’s book PERSONAS 111, published in 2020, documents 111 wigs of his creation over 3 years – some of them were showcased by the same model. I like that in some of them, you can still see the model’s actual hair. There’s no desire to conceal. One comes to realise that these inconsistencies and incoordination – these facets – all belong to the same individual. One of the Jungian archetypes, the persona, like a mask, enables the individual to interrelate with his environment by projecting a certain personality differentiated from the authentic self. Personality, as such, is the sum of all of one’s personas.
“I suppose wig-wearing is a simple means to experience one’s alter ego. It opens a door in your mind, which would have stayed shut had there been no transformation on your part.”