One Man and his Dolly
“I’ve been doing it for twenty five years, playing with dolls. And it is my ultimate drug.” Hair stylist and artist Dejan Cekanovic has a handsome head, a bonkers brain and a beautiful soul. For Beauty Papers Issue Six BIG we asked him to do his favourite thing – play with his dolly. It’s a miracle the things he can achieve with a plastic hairdressing block head. Dejan talks to us about creative freedom, fashion rebels and dolls dolls dolls.
Beauty Papers: We love your story for the new issue. Are you pleased with it?
Dejan Cekanovic: I am I am I am. When I got asked by Maxine to do the shoot I was so excited because normally I just do it for me – playing with my dolls. Now I had a mission, a purpose. Oh, it needs to be done for this. I just went in, and I go in… in the zone, and my misses don’t like it because I just disappear for a couple of days. I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, I’m just in a creative bubble. I don’t have a plan… You know when you just decide to get on the road and start hitchhiking and see where life takes you.
BP: With your dolls you are a bit of a maverick. Where do you feel like you fit in?
DC: [Laughs] I don’t fit in. I wish I could say that I do… I think if there’s any way that I fit in… it is just by being rebellious or being me. I go back to – bless him – I go back to Judy Blame.
BP: My hero. Everyone’s hero.
DC: Yeah! There’s so many things I like about him. For me, when you say fashion, I don’t think about clothes. I would say fashion for me is being rebellious, and just being true to yourself. Take Gareth Pugh in the early days. I’m thinking of Leigh Bowery in the mid-eighties, and Judy Blame who picks up a plastic bag and he just makes something out of it… just purely fucking cool. I loved Beauty Papers’ interview with Bob Recine – the way he approaches pictures, making hair out of toys and whatever. He has his vision. That’s where I see myself fitting in. I’m just true to myself.
BP: It feels like with your dolls there’s a huge sense of freedom.
DC: It’s complete freedom. It’s just me in the studio. Me and loads of plastic heads. [Both laugh] But it is, I’m trying to explain to my daughter what I do; I’m a forty year old man who plays with dolls. If I knew how to paint, that’s how it would be. I don’t ever think I will fulfil my potential in this lifetime, because I will never be satisfied. You’re seeking the next rush, and the next rush. You get one and you think Oh no, I can get a higher rush. I can get higher. And that’s how it is with me and my dolls.
I go in there and I’m like Yeah, wow, amazing! Then as soon as I’m done, Oh, it’s alright. So the next time I jump on it and then I go Wow! I get really excited. Then it dies, more or less it dies straight away. I don’t even have a chance to show to people. It’s dead.
I’ve been doing it for twenty five years, playing with dolls. And it is my ultimate drug. I don’t have a commercial value in what I do, that’s why I don’t fit into fashion. Obviously it can boost your ego when people say, “Oh, it’s amazing, it’s great,” but at the end of the day the feeling you have when you are making something… I don’t know how it is for you, but for me I’m like a little kid.
BP: When you started with the dolls, was it about that creativity or did it start as just a way of practicing hair?
DC: Exactly. It all started with me wanting to become a better hairdresser, and I’m a firm believer that if you’re good at something, like really good at something, you can enjoy it much more. So it started as a way of just building up confidence in my skills. So my skills became better, and at that time I was assisting and I felt like if people were gonna pay me, I need to come prepared.
I remember living in a room in Sweden when I got a scholarship to do a makeup course. I didn’t know anyone, and I lived in a room full of guns – it was really bizarre. In that room, there was me playing with this doll that looked like fifty. She had grey hair, ugly makeup and I was doing loads of classical work like French rolls, French plaits, back-combing.
In those days you didn’t have internet in the same way all I had was, like, old hairdressing magazines. I was just copying and taking pictures. And I’ve kept it all. It’s outrageous when I look at it now and I see guns in the background. Oh, that’s a bit odd. I moved to London and I brought that dolly with me.
What I’ve been lucky with, is that I’ve never had to worry about money. I didn’t care about money. I lived at people’s houses and all I cared about was playing with the doll. People would go out drinking on a Friday, I would pick up my doll and I would play with it. That was my Friday night.
"It’s complete freedom. It’s just me in the studio. Me and loads of plastic heads. I’m trying to explain to my daughter what I do; I’m a forty year old man who plays with dolls."
BP: Brilliant! Do you still have the first doll?
DC: Oh yeah. The first doll I nicked from my school. She has grey hair, and I haven’t touched her. I mean if I could I would build my own, sculpt my own doll, but usually I buy dolls and modify them. It’s like a canvas. Like I said, I’ve never painted, but it’s like: you get a canvas, you make the canvas ready, you take off all the paint that’s on the doll, I bleach her hair, I colour her hair and then I start. I even started building bodies for them. For the Beauty Papers shoot I casted bodies – built them and put the heads on top of them.
BP: Not with the hair, but with all these other elements of your creative output are you self-taught?
DC: Yeah. Even with the photography. With my hair I’m pretty much self taught. I’ve been inspired on the way and I’ve been shown by people… I went to school, I used to work at Vidal Sassoon, I trained there. I’ve assisted and worked with Eugene, but even with Eugene he would just let me be in my room doing hair. That’s all I did when I lived in his house. I had my own room, and I was just playing with hair. I never really paid rent, I was terrible! He was a great landlord. I’m self-taught with the makeup and the way I build these things [dolls], when I cast things. Maybe I read something here and there but I haven’t done any classes. No art school or nothing.
BP: Did you always take pictures?
DC: I think I started taking pictures from day one, because I was documenting the material; my skills. I’ve learned lighting over the years. With digital, that’s when I started painting with light. I used to shoot on Polaroids but it was too expensive. I love the look, I love what you get, but you get one good out of ten bad. Now it’s digital, because it all comes down to money [laughs]. In my twenties I could honestly say I hated money. I don’t value life in relation to things, even though I work in fashion. Beauty for me is something that comes from inside. Beauty comes from being passionate, beauty comes from loving other people, accepting other people. Go your own way, be true to yourself. That’s beauty for me.
I go back to Judy Blame. I knew him and we worked together. He used to go round to flea markets and just buy loads of odd stuff, and he bought all these cheap knick-knack hair accessories: plastic, really naff. And he gave me a whole bag of them, just because he felt I could use them more than him and make something out of it. A few years later we met and he was like, “Oh, I still regret that, there was some wicked stuff in that bag, but I’m glad I gave it to you.” And that’s Judy.
I admire people that are true to themselves, that are craftsmen. Arts and craft. Both artistic and crafted. They make their own stuff. I’m grateful for my craft, because it’s opened up so many possibilities, and my views on life. I’m grateful for fashion, because there’s an acceptance. Everybody’s allowed, and for me I’m a very sensitive person.
BP: Craft is obviously important to you – and your hairdressing work sometimes looks mind-bogglingly technical.
DC: It’s actually basic hairdressing. It’s just that the packaging is different. I do pride myself of the craftsmanship. I love Japanese culture because of the craftiness. I am fascinated with African tribal cultures because of how they make things organically. It’s all made by the hands. I don’t wanna fool anyone. Wigs are fantastic and they are a craft in themselves, but I see myself as a hairdresser. And for me, hairdressing is still things that I can do on a real person, in the sense of what I can do with your hair.
BP: How do you feel at the minute about this relationship in fashion between editorial, commercial and creativity?
DC: Without sounding too angry or bitter about anything, I just think it’s sad the way money has taken over. And I think that there hasn’t been an injection of money to create more creativity. We have to sell and we have to generate money, and because of that it’s all been commercialised.
The budgets are being cut down and creativity is being undermined, and I just think that fashion isn’t as seductive as it used to be. It’s driven by commerce, which I guess it has to be to survive but I think it’s sad because fashion is more interesting that that… it’s a bit unique, a bit mysterious.
I was trying to explain to my daughter what fashion is. She’s six and the only way I could put it is basically it’s grown ups playing with Barbies. Yes, you need to be professional, but it’s important to have a sense of humour.
I mean, we are extremely lucky to be able to find something in life that we like, and it so happened to be fashion. We’re actually doing something that we love doing. And not just me and you, everybody out there that we know who are passionate. So let’s just fucking love each other! We might not agree about our opinions, but we can respect each other. We don’t have to hate each other. I just wish sometimes people realised how precious life is, and we don’t have time to be something we’re not. Don’t die and have loads of regrets. Live them! Live them and make mistakes and learn from them or just live your life to the full.