“The full bush is back” declared Vogue in 2018. Six years later, thanks to the Maison Margiela haute couture show in Paris last week, the case for pubic hair was restated.
The collection, designed by John Galliano, featured models wearing sheer lace and tulle dresses with merkins underneath. If you are yet to be acquainted, think of it like a toupee for the pubic region. Made from real human hair carefully embroidered on to silk tulle, they give the impression of exposed pubic hair.
Galliano was captivated by the “voyeuristic portraiture of Brassaï,” a Hungarian-French photographer who documented Paris after dark between the first and second world wars. The show’s set reflected the Montparnasse neighbourhood Brassaï once roamed and the denizens he captured at dimly lit bars, street corners and inside brothels were also reflected including “three painted muses”, complete with hair bearing mon pubis.
Last year saw the proliferation of underwear as outerwear, with Miu Miu’s £3,750 sequin briefs appearing everywhere from red carpets to magazine covers and even on public transport. So is the high fashion merkin a drastic next step?
Crystal Faith Stuart-Fawkes, who studied prosthetics at the London College of Fashion, makes about 30 merkins a month. Her clients include film and theatre producers along with private commissions for sex dolls. Similar to Maison Margiela’s merkins, Stuart-Fawkes uses human head hair to knot single hairs into a fine lace base. “I knot in specific directions to create a natural hair growth pattern,” she explains. Smaller Brazilian landing strip-style pieces take a couple of hours, larger full-coverage pieces can take a couple of days. Prices for merkins on her Etsy shop range from £38 to £288.
This isn’t the first time merkins have had a fashion moment. In 1994, Carla Bruni sauntered down the Vivienne Westwood catwalk in a faux fur coat that she untied to reveal a matching fuzzy merkin underneath. In 2014, American Apparel made headlines when it displayed underwear clad mannequins with protruding pubic wigs. “We created it to invite passerbys to explore the idea of what is ‘sexy’ and consider their comfort with the natural female form,” said a spokesperson for the company at the time. They are also widely used in film and TV productions, such as in period dramas like Bridgerton to create an authentic pre-Brazilian aesthetic.
The Oxford Companion to the Body points to 1450 as the year the word “malkin” first appeared – from which the name for a pubic hair wig derives. During the 15th century, pubic hair was a symbol of health and nobility. As a result, some people, including sex workers with sexually transmitted infections, began to wear merkins to conceal shaving and scarring. Fast forward to the early noughties and a Brazilian (which leaves behind a strip of hair) and a Hollywood wax (which removes everything) became normalised.
While the UK retail industry for shaving and hair removal products was worth £574.1m in 2022, trend experts say body hair removal is increasingly being rejected with social media movements such as #bodyhairdontcare.
As for those who regret permanently removing their hair, there’s always a haute-couture merkin.
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