TV’s most iconic haircut

11 Mins read

Chances are, you’re probably one of the 6.2 million people who tuned in to BBC One this summer to watch the permiere of latest series of Peaky Blinders. At some point during a nail-biting moment of violence between the Peaky boys and one of their many enemies, it is also likely you thought “now that’s a good haircut.”

Whether you made it through those arduous scenes or recognise the cut from the side of a bus stop, it’s fair to say the Peaky look is iconic.

Loz Schiavo is the hair and make-up designer for the hit TV drama and the brains behind the famous cut. Having worked on all five series of the award-winning show – and being nominated for three Baftas herself – Loz is in very high demand, telling me “work has been mad busy”.

Loz’s filmography highlights:
1999: Bravo Two Zero
2006: Casino Royale
2006: United 93
2007: 28 Weeks Later
2008: Babylon AD
2011: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
2012: Snow White and the Huntsman
2013-2017: Peaky Blinders

Source: IMdb

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Loz’s training began with a four-year apprenticeship in hairdressing, followed by a short makeup course.

“I’ve always loved male grooming,” she tells me. “During my apprenticeship they trained me so thoroughly – you need to master a man’s cut before you can go on to learning women’s hair.”

Once qualified in both fields, she soon found work as a hair and makeup artist on the set of Good Morning Australia. During her early TV career, Loz also worked on various sports shows on Australia’s Channel 10 and did the hair and makeup for the Neighbours publicity events – a far cry from the creative role she yearned for.

“After a few years of working for Channel 10 in Australia, I came to Europe on a backpacking trip. I decided to try and find work in the hair and make-up industry while I was here. It was a really hard slog. I worked for shit money in salons and did hair shows for fun, but I eventually found myself back in the TV and film world.” When refelcting on her expansive CV, Loz tells us: “Once you get on a roll with a career in this field it’s hard to get off. It’s pretty addictive.”

Having worked in television and film for over 25 years, Peaky Blinders is by far her biggest project to date. The show is set in post-WWI Birmingham where, to begin with, make-up was limited and the spirit of the war was still reflected in the brutal haircuts of men.

Screenshot of Instagram post showing Loz doing Cillian Murphy's makeup

The iconic hair cut reflects the styles of the early 1920s [Instagram:@peakyblindersofficial]

The series spans the majority of the 20s with the first episode set in November 1919, just months after the end of the war. The final series ends on December 7, 1929, the morning after a rally led by soon-to-be fascist leader Oswald Mosely and the episodes in between cover a multitude of monumental historical moments.

The show follows the lives of the Shelby family: a working-class clan of Gypsy heritage from the West Midlands, otherwise known as the Peaky Blinders. Amongst fighting and illegal activity, the Blinders gang were famous (both then and now) for their tailored suits, razor-laden flat caps and the sharp haircuts that lay beneath.

Throughout the production, the family’s barely legal betting business expands, and their newfound wealth is illustrated in the way they look: the women start wearing more make-up and the men’s hair becomes more polished. And this is all portrayed thanks to Loz’s designs.

According to research from the BBC, 1920s Birmingham was home to some of the most “violent and notorious gangs”. Extreme poverty, overcrowding and lack of work meant that there were daily riots, thefts and murders on the streets of the city; all key elements of the Peaky Blinders tale.

Exactly 100 years since the first episode of Peaky Blinders was set, Loz explains how she used the rich history of gang-ridden Birmingham mixed with contemporary male grooming when creating the cut. “The Peaky cut is definitely NOT an undercut” Loz explains, “It’s basically a disconnected haircut, with a solid outline and a heavy textured interior.”

Side profile of Harry Kirton, who plays Finn Shelby

Loz and her team cut the actor’s hair every other day to keep it looking sharp [Robert Viglasky]

“It’s definitely not an accurate haircut of the period. What makes it different is that I’ve gone off-piste and designed something in between what we have now and what we would have had then.”

With her contemporary training at the core of the cuts, Loz also used Crooks Like Us – a book written by Peter Doyle which uncovers the stories behind old police records and photographs in Australia – as a key historical reference. Describing it as her “bible” for the series, she used photographs of real people to directly inspire her designs. This includes Arthur Shelby’s floppy on top and barely-there on the sides style, which was originally a hairstyle worn by a convict in the book.

“My thought behind the Peaky cut was that when the guys wear the iconic flat cap style hats, all you see is skin, and when they take the hats off, you can see the individual haircuts I designed for each one of them.”

It is this mix of old and new that really encapsulates Loz’s artistry. By making sure the haircuts were both partly historically accurate and also attractive for a modern audience, she’s invented a whole new style and it is this creativity that got her the job.

Loz landed the Peaky gig through the recommendation of a friend who knew her aptitude for male grooming would make her a perfect fit. “In the interview, I was asked to design the cuts for the Peaky Blinders. The director said he didn’t want anything about the cuts to be ‘normal’ and I instantly thought, ‘yep that’s me’.”

“I brought along a mood board showing pictures of what the Peaky cut would look like and they were impressed.” And this is still how she works today.

The hair and make-up design processes are a close collaboration between Loz, the costume department, the writers and even the actors, that all comes to a head with a visual plan.

“When I design the hair and make-up looks, I read the scripts and break them down into who is in that particular episode and what they are doing in it. I then make a mood board which consists of my drawings and other relevant images I find and I create the final hair and makeup look from that.”

Loz Schiavo and her team of hair an makeup artists

Loz heads up a team of hair and make-up artists on the show [Loz Schiavo]

“We [Loz and the actors] enjoy collaborating together once we know which direction their characters are heading in the upcoming episodes. Once I have a fair idea of where we’re going, I then have an ongoing conversation with the costume designer regarding costume colour, shape and those kinds of things. The looks are a continual collaboration with me, the costume designer and the actors, and I love it.”

We can see this in the design of the classic Peaky cut that Loz constructs differently Blinder to Blinder, to showcase their contrasting personalities and evolving storylines.

“On Season one, I started with Joe Cole [John Shelby]. I sat him down and cut and coloured his hair into a very strong peaky cut, which I have to say looked amazing. This showed all the boys what to expect. When it came to cutting Cill’s hair [Thomas Shelby], we did it in stages. From a normal 1920s cut, it gradually got shorter. I put my twist into it and boom he had a peaky cut.”

“I usually clipper Cill’s hair every second morning to make sure there was continuity to his hair episode to episode.”

Cillian Murphy starts off with a fairly severe cut. Loz utilised a neat short back and sides cut to illustrate his authoritative character. Yet as the series goes on, his hair gets longer and loses its rigid shape which, as she explained to me, is to show him growing up.

In fact, all members of the gang had to go through some pretty big changes when it came to their hair and to begin with, they were not all happy.

“For the first couple of seasons, the guys would insist “I’m not getting a Peaky cut next year”, but guess what, they always ended up with a Peaky cut. Now, after five series of haircuts, they’re used to having the harsh style and have grown to tolerate it.”

“They do make sure they all carry a hat with them once the show starts though. The guys can get away with being themselves in the streets but as soon as they get their classic peaky cuts, they become highly recognisable.”

Action shot of Aberama Gold (left) shoving Arthur Shelby (right) into a wall on the set of Peaky Blinders

Arthur’s (right) hair goes through many styles starting with long on top [Robert Viglasky]

Transformation of the character’s looks is a key part of Loz’s job. Whether it’s a grown-out hair cut or a smudged black eyeliner, the techniques Loz uses to alter their appearances means that the way the actors look speaks way louder than any script.

Throughout the series, all of the characters looks change quite a bit. Tommy goes from clean cut to grown out and grown-up; Arthur’s long on top moves to long all over and then cut off altogether; Polly, the matriarch, goes through all kinds of emotional turmoil and her hair does the same. From long to curly, straight to messy, Polly’s mane turns into a 20s-appropriate pixie cut and ends up in soft curls.

It’s not just Polly whose hair goes through a noticeable change, as the styling and length of all the female characters hairstyles seem to get shorter and neater every episode.

According to Rosie Findlay, fashion theorist and academic at the London College of Fashion, it was a trend for women in the 20s and 30s to cut their hair short. This was because “shorter hairstyles reflected what was more broadly in fashion in the decorative and fine arts, a sense of embracing youth, looking forward to the future and away from the past,” a theme that is clear in the show.

“The post-war feeling among young people in England, especially in London and other city centres, after WWI, as in other places in continental Europe, was energetic and hopeful, celebrating living for the moment and youthfulness.” Rosie tells us.

“This spirit was influenced by other factors besides the war, such as the changes wrought by industrialisation in the 19th century and the rise of cities, and it saw young people (especially women) adopting new styles that marked their bodies as visually distinct from tradition: bobbed hair, either worn straight and glossy or in finger waves rather than elaborate curled hairstyles.”

[pullquote align=”right”]“Once you get on a roll with a career in this field it’s hard to get off. It’s pretty addictive.”[/pullquote]As well as the plot following the second industrial revolution, Loz managed to capture the spirit of hope and move to a more modern look in the female characters. By ditching her trademark mix of old and new, she created a fairly accurate representation of women in the 20s.

Ada Shelby, proud feminist thinker and sister of the gang members, is a good example of how Loz has done this. For her character, Loz created a thin, arching eyebrow, a purposefully placed rosy cheek, a red lip with an emphasised cupid’s bow and a pin curled wig. This transitioned Ada from a young communist rebel to an elegant 1920s lady, imagine a slightly watered-down version of Jean Arthur or Joan Crawford.

Loz tells me, “This season we’ve turned the 20s style beauty and sexiness up a few notches, which they’ve all loved.”

Even though Loz’s first love is male grooming, she uses new techniques to keep the styling of the women fresh and innovative: “All of the female characters wear wigs as the hairstyles of the 1920s have a particularly strong look, so working with the actress’s own hair cut can be pretty difficult. We also use wigs because they’re so much more time-efficient as we pre dress them and pop them on the actors at the last minute.”

Wigs aren’t the only tool she uses to create a specific look for the characters. Loz applies special effects make-up to the characters to emphasise particular storylines, adding drama to an otherwise flat look.

“Alfie Solomons is a key character and Tom [Hardy] had a strong idea of how he wanted his character to come across. We worked together on his overall look and decided to create psoriasis all over his face to imitate what the conditions from being down in the cellar in his rum production company would have done to his skin.”

Instagram screenshot of Loz doing special effects makeup on Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy in make-up with Loz [Instagram:@lozschiavomakeup]

Loz uses Attagel, a thickening agent, mixed with Blue Marble concentrate to change the appearance of Tom’s skin: “He loved the idea of creating psoriasis to add to his character and tell his story using make-up.” By layering the two products and placing coloured makeup on top to add life and texture to the look, the result is highly realistic.

As well as Tom Hardy’s faux psoriasis, Loz collaborated with a temporary tattoo company to create fake ink for many of the male characters. “The tattoos on the guys are all individually designed for their character and what they have been through in their lives.”

For Luca Changretta, a mafia mob leader played by Adrien Brody, Loz wanted to emphasise his past prison days, so she laid the tattoos on pretty thick: a cross on his neck to reflect his Italian Catholic heritage and a black hand – a symbol of warning – on his wrist.

“In the 1920s, tattoos were definitely not in season like they are now. Not everyone had them, but they were definitely seen. I’ve always used a company called Tattooed Now. The guys who work there are tattoo artists in Belgrade.”

As well as designing new tattoos, Loz also had to cover some up. In the case of Alfie Solomons – a Jewish businessman played by Tom Hardy – she used high coverage make-up to mask his already heavily tattooed arms, adding back in a few small hand tattoos to replicate what a man of his background may have had.

Loz’s hair and make-up creations have clearly had a positive impact as over the five series, the TV drama has racked up a very loyal (and impressionable) audience. Viewing figures have almost doubled, from 3.3 million in series four to 6.2 million in series five.

(Left to right) Arthur Shelby, Thomas Shelby and Michael Gray in action on the set of Peaky Blinders

(Left to right) Arthur Shelby, Thomas Shelby and Michael Gray sport very different hairstyles [Robert Viglasky]

Reports from retailer John Lewis show that after the airing of series three, flat cap sales peaked at 83% up on the previous year, with celebrities such as Idris Elba and David Beckham sporting the style.

And if that wasn’t enough, just last month, thousands of fans gathered in Digbeth, the old stomping ground of the real Peaky gang, to enjoy the first-ever Peaky Blinders festival, where Loz gave live lessons and cut the hair of wannabe Tommy Shelbys.

Asking Loz how she felt about creating the most iconic haircut on TV, she very modestly answered, “the Peaky cut has become popular because of the success of the show and how well the guys wear it.”

“I made a point of making the guys look sharp and wanted to highlight how fantastic men can look when they are groomed, hence bringing back classic barbering and making it cool and exciting again.”

In true Loz fashion, the hair and make-up whizz is currently working on season two of Discovery of Witches; a show that only reinforces her quintessentially English repertoire. With a bit more prodding, she reveals that after this, she will start prepping the next Peaky Blinders series, but out of fear of spoilers, that is all the news I am getting.

Looking further into the future, Loz reflects, “I still have so much more I want to do in my career, I just need to take it as it comes. It would be fun to go back to my roots and get back into doing hair shows, maybe a travelling Peaky show!”

Watch this space.




Check out Loz’s Instagram for more @lozschiavomakeup

Featured Image by Loz Schiavo 

Edited by Franziska Eberlein and Kesia Evans

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