Hadlock's hair apparent

By Robin Dudley of the Leader
Posted 2/17/15

Wig artist and craftsman Michael Costain, 59, has built wigs for the stars, from Eartha Kitt to Lil' Kim, and he knows his stuff.

Extensively trained in theatrical wig making and a 30-year veteran …

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Hadlock's hair apparent

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Wig artist and craftsman Michael Costain, 59, has built wigs for the stars, from Eartha Kitt to Lil' Kim, and he knows his stuff.

Extensively trained in theatrical wig making and a 30-year veteran of the industry, he recently opened a wig shop and showroom in Port Hadlock, serving "elderly folks, medical clients, children from Seattle Children's Hospital, veterans," and anyone who needs him.

He's also open to designing and building costume wigs, but his business focus is "to serve and educate, and make it affordable here," using his skills and knowledge to help people look and feel their best.

"There's no shame in wearing a wig," he said. He can make them so that "nobody will know it's a wig. The thing is, you don't want to look foolish."

He said some women with thinning hair will spend hundreds of dollars a month getting their hair done. "I can make a lace cap" for a woman, he said. "They can get the look they were consistently getting from the beauty shop" and have it look consistently realistic. His prices are determined on a case-by-case basis. He may charge around $600 to build a wig, but "I never have been able to turn anybody away," he said, adding that high-end wigs in Seattle can cost up to $3,000. Some medical insurance policies cover wigs, he said; "it is a durable medical good, like a prosthetic arm."

Costain encourages people to take him up on his offer of free consultations, and see just how realistic a wig can look.

"We're fighting against the myth that wigs look phony," he said.

Wigs can be fun and silly for Halloween, but most people in search of a wig want it to look realistic – and he can make that happen.

"I can pretty much solve any of their problems," he said. People have come to him who were "desperate," he said. "And they were amazed." He offers free consultations at his Hadlock shop, and has written a consumer guide for people looking into wigs or hairpieces or other solutions.

He can make anything from synthetic hair and from real human hair; he can even use a person's own hair to make a piece for them.

He welcomes donated hair that he can use to make wigs. Call 360-878-5241.

HOMETOWN BOY

Costain grew up in Port Townsend (PTHS Class of 1973); his dad taught band at the school at Fort Worden in the early 1960s. The town was "a carnival, a hippie freak show" back then, he said. He recalls attending the PT School of the Arts at Point Hudson, and being taken to ballet and opera productions as a youth.

After earning a bachelor of science degree in theater set design at University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Costain happened to see a wig master from the San Francisco Opera on television.

"I had no idea it was a real craft skill, with a 500-year history ... using paleolithic technology: the crochet hook," he said. He was inspired. He went to Brandeis University for graduate school on a scholarship, earning an advanced degree in theatrical design, with a costuming emphasis.

He's worked all over the world in the entertainment and film industry. Mostly he worked in New York, making wigs to suit a broad spectrum of tastes, for a variety of purposes.

"The range of people I've met," he said, defeats the imagination.

BIG WIG

His knowledge of materials and techniques is vast, and "these crafting skills are waning," he said. He is considering teaching wig making if an opportunity to do so arises.

He's well versed in 18th and 19th-century European wig making (use of yak and horse hair was not uncommon), modern men's hair replacement fads, street wear and the East Asian theater tradition. He's been to Japan four times, "designed and built multiple shows there," and prides himself on having had tea backstage with the best Kabuki actors at the palace grounds.

He's quick to demonstrate the use of a crochet hook to loop a half-hitch of hair, real or synthetic, in transparent tulle backing.

He has made wigs from plastic straws. He's made exploding wigs, collapsing wigs, full beard/wig costumes that had to be put on quickly backstage and be immediately photorealistic. He made oodles of wigs for Broadway shows, films and a bevy of entertainment purposes, "you name it." He made hair for a reconstruction of "Lucy," an early hominid, and for a mastodon in New York's American Museum of Natural History.

He is most proud of the job he did on Burt Reynolds's toupee in the film "Boogie Nights." He's also built wigs for Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino and Eartha Kitt, among others, including the cast of a Broadway show called "Wild Party." "There wasn't anybody in that show that wasn't somebody."

He said that a wig used in the film "The Devil Wears Prada" cost $15,000, though he didn't make it. The most he ever earned for one wig was $4,000 – it was for rap artist Lil' Kim.

In Jefferson County, he wants to "stay small and stay in the area ... We want to do big things west of Seattle," he said. He does plan to do a "Halloween blowout," and is open to making costume wigs. Outlandish ideas are encouraged. He's also a makeup artist. But his main business focus is currently making wigs that are quite a bit less high-profile.

SKILLED CRAFTSMAN

Costain is a wealth of hair-replacement information.

Medical advances have changed the field of hair replacement, including improvements in micrografting, a surgical technique involving adding hair to a scalp strand by strand, in the growth-pattern direction, he explained.

Some of the outdated techniques for attaching hairpieces leave him speechless.

"The history of the men's surgical hair thing – oh! The scars. I worked on men that had to wear hairpieces because their grandchildren would run from them."

Due to the booming non-surgical men's hair-replacement industry, 14 distinct kinds of synthetic fibers have been developed to replicate types of hair. "Only a highly skilled wig craftsman can replicate the 14 qualities," he said.

He makes wigs from both synthetic and human hair; when asked to compare the materials, he uses the analogy of a fiberglass boat versus a wooden boat, in terms of maintenance.

In his showroom is a tumbling mass of synthetic golden corkscrew curls, "a plastic wig, sprayed with plastic" that looks like thick, bouncy curls of real hair. Costain made it for the "Lion" character in a traveling Ice Capades production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Because of his theater background, Costain said, he knows how to make wigs that can withstand the rigors of a traveling show. "It's low-maintenance," he said, but "I never wanted to compromise the artistic illusion."

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