Stories Photo essay
Plumage Please

By Tautahi Subritzky

In the realm of fashion and beauty, looking to flora and fauna for inspiration isn’t an unusual concept. Over the years, designers, makeup artists and hairstylists have all looked to nature in many ways that utilize the inherent beauty that comes from the natural world. Today, we’re focusing on feathers and the varying ways that they’ve been used to ornament the hair.

A Māori woman photographed with Huia feathers in her hair, circa 1890.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, adorning the hair with feathers has cultural significance. For Māori, the huia bird was revered as a symbol of nobility, leadership and hierarchy. The white-tipped black tail feathers were worn in the hair, only by chiefs of high rank and their whānau (family). The feathers, prized like fine jewelry, were stored in intricately carved boxes known as waka huia.

A Māori woman photographed with Huia feather in her hair, circa 1900.

A Māori woman in European clothing with Huia Feathers in her hair, circa 1885.

From a sartorial viewpoint, feathers have been utilized for their colours and textures, showcasing excess and flamboyancy, crafted into hair accessories and on some occasions, the hair itself. Whether as an ornamental statement piece or ethereal detail; feathers exaggerate movement, add another perception of texture, and provoke a mood.

Alexander McQueen Autumn / Winter 2006

Feathers and wing-like hair accessories are given an avant-garde spin at Alexander McQueen, who was known for work deeply influenced by the natural world.

Alexander Mcqueen Spring Summer 2003
Surreal and sculptural headpiece by jeweller Shaun Leane.

Christian Dior Fall 2005 Couture
A ruined Edwardian garden where cobwebs festooned broken statues, fallen chandeliers, and birds fell from the sky.

Dior Haute Couture Spring / Summer 2017
Feather tiaras fastened by bows.

Vivienne Westwood Fall 1995
Feathers, ringlets and a flouncy pussy bow; punk meets French history glam.

Ann Demeulemeester Autumn / Winter 2009

Feathers, and especially pigeon feathers are one of Ann Demeulemeester’s signatures. In her world they represent freedom, humbleness and poetry.

Alexis Mabille Haute Couture Spring 2015

Ostrich barbs dispersed throughout the hair, matching or contrasting the garments.

Alexis Mabille Haute Couture Spring 2015

Marchesa Spring / Summer 2014
Black feathered strands knotted into side parted styles.

Prada Fall 2017
An ostrich-feathered, crystal-fringed Prada-sphere.

Valentino Spring Couture 2018
Valentino couture let loose with aquamarine ostrich feathers, wildly clashing colours and an unfettered sense of fantasia.

Ashish Autumn / Winter 2020

Obsessed with these ostrich feather wigs and exaggerated dolly-lashes.

Dries Van Noten Autumn 2018
Single strands of ostrich feather barbs are placed subtly in the hairline, enhanced by a swipe of neon on the lashes and a sculptural earring.

Dries Van Noten Spring 2020

Blade Runner eyes and feathered bangs. Such a perfect combo.

Dries Van Noten Autumn 2020

Vibrantly coloured feathers combed and slicked down into the parting. Creating a striking ombre effect. The look, created by Sam McKnight, was inspired by the imagery Serge Lutens created in the late 70s and early 80s.

Kate Moss in Julien d'Ys feather headpiece photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Love Magazine, 2012.

Kate Moss photographed by Arthur Elgort for Vogue Italia, October 1992

Cher In a feathered headdress for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, 1972

Cher wears a feathered headdress and gown designed by Bob Mackie for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, 1973

Thom Browne 2015

Chanel Haute Couture Spring / Summer 2005
Natasha Poly wears a white and Fluffy feathered wig at Chanel. Ornamented with adorable little hair clips. Tres chic.

Chanel Haute Couture Spring / Summer 1992

Junya Watanabe Spring / Summer 2014

Feathered headpieces by Katsuya Kamo for Junya Watanabe.

W Korea

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