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3 Apr

Kitty carpets and downstairs toupées: contained in the area

From creating hairpieces for nude scenes in movies to fielding requests for pubic hair donations, the experts of the merkin world share insights into the world of vagina wig creation

“I once had a extremely strange request from someone asking if I could make a merkin for them from their dead dogs’ hair,” says Manchester-based hairpiece designer Crystal Stuart-Fawkes. “It freaked me out a bit and I never responded.” While dead dog hair is likely to be the weirdest request she’s had, it’s under no circumstances the one one which has pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Welcome to the world of merkins.

Stuart-Fawkes began off her profession selling traditional wig pieces – moustaches, goatees, eyebrows etc – on her Etsy store. It was only after someone requested a merkin that she tried her hand on the more specialist subject, but it surely quickly became her hottest item. Now, she makes a staggering five to 10 merkins every week.  

Like most in the sphere, Stuart-Fawkes uses human head hair to create her wig pieces. It’s a fact she has needed to clarify countless times to potential customers hoping to get a more intimate purchase. “I emphasise HEAD hair because I even have had quite a few requests from people asking if I’ll buy their pubic hair from them or if I could make them a merkin from real pubic hair,” she says. “I had any person who got quite offended with me once I wouldn’t buy their pubic hair and called me a ‘fake ass bitch’ once they came upon that my merkins weren’t constructed from real pubes.”

A merkin, also known by various unserious euphemisms like ‘downstairs toupee’ and ‘kitty carpet’, is a wig in your genitals. As area of interest because it sounds, it’s not quite as unusual as you may think. Mostly utilized in the film and TV industries, vagina wigs make on-screen appearances in nude scenes to make actors feel less exposed or to offer a more authentic aesthetic for the time period or character. Merkins have been utilized in steamy period dramas like Bridgerton and for full-frontal nudity in cult classics like Midsommar or The Dreamers. Jared Leto even gave them a shout-out in the course of the Oscars in 2016.

But merkins even have a protracted history, dating back to the fifteenth century once they were often called ‘malkins’. In keeping with The Oxford Companion to the Body, from 1450 sex staff would wear wigs on their genitals as a strategy to inhibit the spread of STDs and lice. On the time, a full bush was seen as a logo of health and prosperity, while being clean-shaven was viewed as unattractive and a strategy to conceal venereal diseases. Thus sex staff and even aristocratic women, bored with getting pubic lice from their philandering husbands, would wear wig pieces made with anything from horse hair and goats hair to human hair stolen by grave robbers from corpses.

Lately, the hair used for merkins is bought not stolen, says Dave Edwards, a wig and postiche (facial hair) maker who has experience creating merkins for film and TV. “A lot of the hair that wig makers use is purchased,“ he explains. “Most industrial hair comes from either India or China. Finer quality raw hair comes from Slavic countries and might be very expensive to purchase.” For those on the lookout for a more coarse effect, Stuart-Fawkes says yak hair may also be used.

The merkin market is a specialised one and sometimes every bit is custom-made and personalised for the wearer. To create a merkin, the very first thing Stuart-Fawkes does is locate out from the client all of the needed specifications: measurements, shape, color and density. “I often get sent reference images to repeat styles from. For a custom piece, my client will send me images just about color or sometimes they may post a hair sample for me to color match.”

Once a template has been created, each hairpiece is produced by knotting single hairs right into a high-quality lace base. Stuart-Fawkes describes knotting each hair in a particular direction to make the pattern of hair growth look as natural as possible. In terms of application, it’s often best left to the experts – not less than for film and TV. “The merkin would normally be applied by someone within the make-up or hair department,” says Edwards. “I suppose it could be possible for the actor to use it on their very own, but attaching hair pieces generally is a bit tricky and would best be done by someone with experience.”

Unlike within the fifteenth century, today most mainstream beauty standards prize a clean-shaven look over women having any body hair. A survey done by Cosmopolitan in 2017 found that 57 per cent of girls aged 18-35 remove all their pubic hair and 46 per cent of men prefer their partners to go completely bare – despite only 17 per cent of men doing it themselves. The worldwide laser hair removal market was valued at $798.6 million in 2021 and is predicted to grow by 18.4 per cent annually for the following seven years.

Despite that, there remains to be a marketplace for merkins, not only to be used within the film industry, but additionally for fetish purposes like sex dolls, and the occasional high fashion moment on the runway or for editorial. In 2018, Korean designer Kaimin sent models down the catwalk at Latest York Fashion Week in punk-inspired merkins created by Dale Delaporte and Charlie Le Mindu. The theme of the show was tolerance, and the designer explained the merkins represented that “this acceptance of individuality is the human vagina”. For her iconic SS94 show, Vivienne Westwood gave Carla Bruni a fur coat and matching merkin.

So who’re the people ordering merkins off Etsy? Apart from the occasional misadventure – Stuart-Fawkes once had a customer complain their merkin didn’t fit properly, “it seems he thought it was a toupee and had been walking around with it attached to his head!” – many consumers are sex doll owners.

“I’ve had quite a lot of clients, mainly from the US and Germany, who send me images and measurements of their RealDolls to make Merkins match their dolls’ hair,” she says. “I try to not ask my clients too many questions as I do know most of them are quite private people (they often use fake names). From the small bits of knowledge I even have received, the aim of the RealDoll merkins are to make them feel and look more realistic. A number of my clients have a preference for a thick bush. The photos of the RealDolls that I even have received are very realistic!”

Stuart-Fawkes’ reviews speak for themselves: “I ordered two merkins for my silicone Realdolls. They’re beautiful! Greater than I could have wanted, realistic, quality hair and construction. I’m already ordering one other,” wrote one completely happy customer. “Identical to the actual thing,” said one other.

Because the Cosmo survey confirmed, many men favour a bare look and aren’t shy about vocalising their preferences – based on the study, 40 per cent of men have asked their partners to vary their pubic hair and 30 per cent said a partner’s pubic hair might make them reconsider dating. Nevertheless, this isn’t all the time the case. “I’ve had husbands contact me after their wives have had their pubic area lasered and may’t grow hair anymore,” says Stuart-Fawkes.

“I believe my merkin business would’ve gone bust if it wasn’t for laser hair removal; it’s so common nowadays and with so many period dramas requiring a period-correct aesthetic during nude scenes, there is no such thing as a other option than to stay a merkin on.” On those occasions, the wig maker’s work plays a very important role in helping the actors get into characters and feel supported each mentally and physically while revealing their bodies on screen. “I even have had feedback from actors who’ve said my hairpieces have made them feel more comfortable when nude on set which is basically good to listen to.”

With Hollywood’s recent “shift towards Puritanism, as director Paul Verhoeven put it, nevertheless, the decreasing number of sex scenes in film and the industry’s desexualisation of the body, the necessity for merkins could also be over soon. “In my experience, the demand for merkins hasn’t been very high. There appears to be a trend away from full-frontal nudity in movies, so there isn’t an enormous need for them,” says Edwards, finally. “I think it’d rely on where the film is being made. Hollywood seems quite prudish lately, but I believe movies made in Europe and the UK might still be a bit freer with nudity.”

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