Last of New York’s Master Wigmakers

Last of New York’s Master Wigmakers

Nicholas Piazza keeps 600 pounds of hair in his Staten Island garage.

He stores it in plastic bins and cardboard boxes, opposite the fishing supplies. “Got grays, got browns, got blonds,” he said. “Got everything.”

Inside one bin, shiny brown bundles nestled around one another like snakes. He picked two thick braids and lifted them from the bin. Uncoiled, they were three feet long and nearly reached the ground. “This is all Russian hair cut right off people’s heads,” Mr. Piazza said.

Mr. Piazza, 69, is the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, the son of a detective, a tournament fisherman. He does not look like a man who would have an exotic hair collection in his garage. But for decades, Mr. Piazza was one of the most sought-after wigmakers in New York City.

He made custom wigs and hairpieces for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Brooke Astor and Lena Horne at Kenneth hair salon. He also made the closest thing the world has seen to mermaid hair, creating the long tresses Daryl Hannah wore in “Splash.” Visit here ; Custom made hair pieces.

Much of his hair came from this stash, sourced from around the world, and which eventually outgrew his studio. “I couldn’t close my closets,” he said. “I had more hair than I knew what to do with.”

Mr. Piazza is one of the last Old World wigmakers making wigs for the public in the city, men and women trained mostly by Italian and Jewish immigrants in the centuries-old trade of hand-tying wigs, a fussy affair that on the patience spectrum falls somewhere between tailoring a jacket and counting the stars.

These are not the hot-pink bobs at Halloween stores. They are made from human hair and have intricate hairlines that blend into the skin. To make one requires weaving hair, a few strands at a time, to a lace mesh cap with a small needle, a process known as ventilating. Ventilating a lace wig, which may have as many as 150,000 knots at its roots, takes about 40 hours.

This may appear to be yet another case of an antiquated craft disappearing from New York, one artisan at a time. But wigs are far from being swept into the past. The demand, it turns out, hasn’t been as high as it is now since the wig craze of the late 1960s and early ’70s, when Mr. Piazza and his fellow wigmakers entered the field. Wigs are part of the boom in the human hair trade that began with extensions.

The world of wigs in New York is vast, and various. In Midtown, Korean-American wholesalers sell them in bulk in the human hair district, and a roomful of wigmakers weaves hair for the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway musicals.

At the hair emporiums along 125th Street in Harlem and Fulton Avenue in Brooklyn, women sort through styles with names like Senegalese Twist and Peruvian Bodywear. In parts of Brooklyn and Queens, among the few public places you’ll find Orthodox Jewish women not wearing their wigs is the swimming pool.

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