Those who visit Dover Street Market Los Angeles, recently opened in they city’s downtown Arts District, will be greeted by Susie Cave: at least, four ten-foot-tall mannequins created in her likeness, all the way up to a perfectly coiffed head of raven-coloured hair. The gowns they wear – ruffle-trimmed, in various Liberty-print silks and custom designed by Cave – recall her darkly romantic style, one which has seen her label, The Vampire’s Wife, amass a devoted cult following.
“Alice Babidge, who designed the set and developed the idea of the dresses being so exaggerated, thought that they should be like giant Susies, and the wigs should be like my hair,” explains Cave over email from Los Angeles, where she spends part of her year alongside her husband, the musician Nick Cave, and son Earl. “I wanted the wigs to be how I love to look.”
“Susie was already in the throes of conceptualising the installation when we got chatting about it over a haircut,” says hair artist Pamela Neal, who collaborated with Cave on each of the wigs, marking the first time they had worked together on a project, though each had admired the other’s work from afar for a number of years. “Susie needed wigs made as pieces of art,” Neal explains. “I voiced a couple of ideas I had for wigs but we got reined in by Nick when he made it clear that these mannequins were to be ‘ten-foot Susies’ – his words.”
The pair were introduced by the celebrity stylist Karla Welch, who had told Cave that Neal was “best hairdresser in the world”. On meeting, they found they shared a wealth of references: not least Joan Jett and the Runaways, Neal having created the hair for 2010 biopic The Runaways, starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. (“I love the wigs she made for The Runaways,” Cave enthuses.) Other shared “hair heroes” included Lucy and Pamela Ewing and Lucy from Dallas, the women of 1970s Playboy, and “Cher, most of all,” says Cave. “I love the authenticity of a gutsy homemade haircut, too,” adds Neal. “It must be the punk in me.”
Cave and Neal also have in common that they are both British and, as teenagers, felt a need to escape the monotony of their hometowns, in Cheshire and Bournemouth respectively. “We come from quite similar backgrounds, and wanting to escape our small-town worlds from a very young age and run away,” says Cave. “I’ve been obsessed with hair for as long as I remember. As a young girl there was a comic I read about a girl who transformed into the most beautiful girl in the world when she wore a mask with long black hair; you could not see her face only her long black hair. This stayed in my subconscious I think somehow, and I realised this when I saw the finished mannequins.”
Those mannequins wear designs by Cave: each is made from printed Liberty silk (“I always use it – I love the fluidity of silk and the pretty flower patterns,” she says), nipped at the waist and ruffle-trimmed, all The Vampire’s Wife’s signatures. Here, though, their proportions are lengthened in fantastical manner; on one gown – Cave’s favourite – the sleeves trail all the way down to the floor. “I think it’s interesting to see such delicate patterns while the mannequins are of Amazonian proportions, the way the silk falls makes them appear languid and sensual,” says Cave. “It’s like they are caught in a moment of suspension and time.”
Though Cave has been stocked in Dover Street Market worldwide for a number of seasons, this project marks her first installation for the store. Which seems fitting – Los Angeles is a home-from-home for Cave and her family, splitting their time between the Californian city and Brighton, where they live and The Vampire’s Wife is based. “It’s such a great honour to have this installation here, in Dover Street Market – it’s the greatest shop in the world,” says Cave. “Los Angeles is a wild city of dreams to me; I feel so inspired by it in every possible way imaginable.”