Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind the Work: The POLITIX Menswear Moustache Hair Suit

Advertising Agency
Cremorne, Australia
Dan Sparkes, creative director at Bullfrog and Pam Kleemann-Passi, Melbourne based visual artist, spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the process behind creating a suit made entirely of human moustache hair

While Covid-19 still dominates the global headlines, Movember’s life-saving campaign finds itself drowned out by everything else happening in the world. Raising awareness on men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide is still very much necessary this year, as it has been since the formation of the Movember 18 years ago. 

POLITIX Menswear knew exactly what audiences needed – a conversation starter, that will make us remember the significance of this month. So, they collaborated with artist Pam Kleemann-Passi, via Bullfrog, to bring Movember back into the media loop and remind audiences not to sweep it under the rug. In the POLITIX x Movember’s ‘Worn to be Heard’ campaign, the brand debuted the Mo-Hair Suit, a two-piece single-breasted suit expertly tailored and custom-made using real moustache hair. 

Pam holds the movement dear to her heart, as she lost her husband to prostate and colorectal cancer in 2016 and her art has been delving into her personal experiences, exploring the collision between creativity and medical science (often through using human hair in her artwork). POLITIX and Bullfrog sourced the mo-hair from collaborators whose lives have been affected by men’s health issues and these collaborators shared their unique messages, which were then printed on the lining of the suit, as well as a dedication from Pam. LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Pam and Dan Sparkes, creative director of Bullfrog, to find out more about this extraordinary campaign and the creative process behind it.

LBB> How did the idea for this campaign come about and what were the conversations surrounding it? 

Dan> It began with the intention to do something special from the client. Then it showed up as a scribble on a page from our creative team: ‘The Mo-Hair Suit – a suit made from moustaches’. Everyone instantly gravitated towards the idea because it was the perfect representation of both partner brands, POLITIX Menswear and Movember. But the next big question was: ‘How?’

To POLITIX’s credit, they gave us the time to find out. Some might call them brave, but it wasn’t that. It was a true reflection of the kinds of partnerships we try to foster with our clients.

LBB> How did you wind up creating a suit made from moustaches to stimulate a conversion around men’s mental health? And what conversations were you hoping to provoke with the campaign amongst Australian audiences?

Dan> We knew we needed an idea that would break into the health news cycle. But when your competition is a global pandemic, it couldn’t be another branded PSA. Important men’s health issues weren’t getting enough airtime, so we needed an idea that would have as much visual cut-through as ‘Growing a Mo’ did when Movember first started. This was our hairy Trojan horse.

It was designed to provoke strong feelings. For most, their first feeling is discomfort. That gut reaction of ‘eugh’ is our icebreaker. Our ‘did you see that thing?’ moment. And of course, knowing that POLITIX and Movember are behind it, it quickly switches the conversation from one of shock to significance. We’ve watched this play out in the news cycle, on social and in real life, and that conversation switch happens very quickly. 

LBB> What was the process of tailoring the piece actually like?

Dan> The process of tailoring was actually quite traditional. We used a trusted tailor to sew and shape the suit to the iconic POLITIX cut. But before all that, we had to create a new textile. To do this, we partnered with an artist: Pamela Kleemann-Passi. It’s best we hear from her. 

Pam> We wanted the hair to be quite visible, but not shed too much. So I created something like a ‘mo-hair sandwich’, with the hair trapped between a backing layer of POLITIX fabric and some very fine tulle. 

I mocked up several prototypes using different coloured backing fabrics, varying hair-layer thickness, and different stitching styles and coloured pieces of cotton that correspond with the 5 most common cancers that men suffer from. 

It was important that the moustache hair was the ‘hero’ of the suit, so we chose the more understated sample using the black backing, black tulle and a black Blind-Hemming stitch – which resembles a heart-rate monitor – machined in a 4cm window-pane pattern that is characteristic of POLITIX. 

I then created the bespoke moustache hair textile panels over about 10 days, from clippings and offcuts from barbershops Australia-wide, collected and cleaned by Sustainable Salons, as well as the individual packages of moustache hair sent by men who wanted to be immortalised within the suit! 

Nico from Germanicas Bespoke Tailors meticulously and lovingly constructed the suit. Now, being a mo-hair suit, hairy buttons and a moustache pin for the pocket were essential to complete the style and emphasise the message, so I set about creating those! It was challenging, it was fun, it was unique and it was made with love by all who touched it.

LBB> This piece is not only impactful, but incredibly personal for both Pam and others involved in its making. Tell me more about the messages on the inside of the suit.

Dan> The messages on the inside are dedications, messages of hope, personal experiences, coping advice – the beginnings of conversations that men need to have more regularly. Sound bites of very specific and personal men’s health issues. 

As someone who suffers from anxiety albeit rarely, I found this part of the process incredible. It was amazing to watch the Bullfrog, POLITIX and Movember teams, plus their friends and families open up with their own stories. It literally brought everyone closer together and fuelled the love and care for the project even more so – we all felt it. And of course, collaborating with Pam’s personal story just made it that much more rewarding. 

Pam> I felt an immediate personal connection to this project on many levels. Five years ago in November 2016, my husband, the Congolese musician Passi Jo, passed away from colorectal and prostate cancer. I travelled his harrowing cancer journey with him, having travelled my own breast cancer journey a number of years before. 

Passi Jo looked fabulous in anything he wore. He loved a finely tailored suit and he often grew an impressive, bushy moustache. He was part of a sub-cultural movement in Congo and France - ‘La Sape’ - and designer suits were part of the sapeurs uniform. 

There were so many parallels and I knew he would love this suit, so it was my way of honouring him. I love having my dedication to him printed and sewn into the lining of the suit, so he is a part of the conversation along with the other men who contributed to the other surprise element of the Mo-Hair Suit: the snippets of their conversations, worn to be heard. 

LBB> Tell us more about where the tagline #WornToBeHeard came from? 

Dan> POLITIX design a wide range of suits, from classic formalwear to the more loud statement pieces – garments you wear to be seen. So, the team flipped it and ‘Worn to be Heard’ was written. The Mo-Hair Suit does both of those things, but the importance is placed upon it being, first and foremost, a conversation piece. 

LBB> What were the biggest challenges you faced during the making of this campaign?

Dan> The initial hurdle was big. How do we take an idea off a post-it and turn this into a physical garment? To be honest, we made it hard for ourselves by setting a few non-negotiables. It had to look beautiful and be taken seriously. Plus, it had to reflect POLITIX’s high-quality tailoring – and we knew achieving that with moustache hair was going to be tough. 

The next barrier was finding a partner who could create a textile utilising moustache hair. This took us to some pretty strange corners of the internet, with many oddly-timed Zoom calls. Then the most amazing thing happened. Our producer, Sarah, remembered walking into a studio in Collingwood where Pam was working on her other hair-based artworks.

Then it was finding the hair. Aside from direct donations, we sourced a lot of it from Sustainable Salons – another fortuitous find – who partner with hairdressers and barbers all over the country to recycle and reuse 95% of what goes in the salon bin.

The final challenge was our own impatience to see the suit. We just wanted to know how the fabric would translate once tailored. And lucky for us, it looked incredible. 

Pam> Challenge is what an artist needs, to think and thrive and explore different tangents. How to make a mo-hair suit! Wow! I was up for it! I’d recently made a suite of 2D garments using human and synthetic hair to interpret illness and medical science. I love the materiality of hair; it’s prickly and slippery, not always easy to work with and it polarises reactions, evoking pleasure or revulsion. 

Then there was the COVID-19 pandemic and Melbourne in lock-down, so I wasn’t able to work from my beautiful studio. At home, the largest clear surface was the kitchen table (though I often thought the process was a bit like cooking), yet my bold-as-brass-in-your-face Bengal cat, Zembi, insists on assisting me in everything I do, so the kitchen wasn’t ideal. Fortunately, my bubble buddy had a spare room, so that became my studio. 

Moustache hair is very short and hair sheds, so the layering of the hair within the ‘sandwich’ of backing fabric and tulle was the greatest challenge, given the longevity and wearability of the suit over time and various bodies. I love the outcome, and the challenges motivated and extended me.  

LBB> What do you believe is the role of media and advertising when it comes to men’s health and does a large platform come with a responsibility to educate audiences?

Dan> It doesn’t take much to understand the impact advertising and the media can have on an individual’s health. So, I think it’s deeply important that those in our industry put a concerted effort into understanding their potential impact – good and bad. I also think audiences have woken up to inauthenticity in charitable work, which means you can’t get away with cheap tricks; due diligence is needed. 

That all sounds very serious, doesn’t it? But let’s not forget our other responsibility: to entertain. After all, education delivered in an entertaining way is far more effective. Also, the fact that we disrupt people at home watching TV, or between memes on their personal devices, brings a whole other responsibility that we talk about at Bullfrog all the time: capturing people’s attention is a privilege we shouldn’t take lightly. So, whatever we make needs to be worthy of their time.

Pam> I believe that as well as entertaining, artists have a responsibility to challenge conventions, educate and inform. My interest is in creating artworks that embody serious messages, be they social, political, environmental or around health, but in a way that uses gentle humour and teases out conversations. 

Media and advertising can be fickle and flippant, so it’s necessary to find ways of using those platforms to subvert the message and make it serious but in a more adventurous, playful and honest way. The Mo-Hair Suit does this because at first glance it’s another beautiful, well-tailored suit that looks amazing, but on closer inspection, it’s made of hair – men’s facial hair – and that challenges and starts conversations.

LBB> Where is the suit now and what will happen to it post-launch? 

Dan> It’s a great question. There has been some chatter about it popping up in a gallery space, being auctioned off for charity, going on a POLITIX store-front tour, or finding a home at the Movember HQ. Maybe all of the above. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it pop up at a Christmas party somewhere. Wherever it goes, its purpose will be to spark conversation.

LBB> Are there any other pieces in the Worn to be Heard collection and what are they? Will there be a follow-up next Movember?

Dan> Right now, we have The Mo-Hair Suit and three Statement Jackets. The additional jackets carry large screen-printed illustrations from artist WBYK that read ‘I Cry Like a Boss’, ‘We Need To Talk’, and ‘Grab Cancer by the Balls’. For the campaign’s launch, these were worn by Anthony Field (the blue Wiggle), Sam Mac (Australian TV presenter) and Lyndon Watts (actor). The Statement Jackets have also been worn by influencers and if you were to walk into a POLITIX store, you’d find them worn by staff. 

LBB> Any final thoughts?

Dan> I would like to acknowledge the team who worked on this project. It was amazing to be part of and rarely does the work teach you so much about one another. I feel very fortunate to have heard stories from colleagues who have gone through so much themselves.  

It would also be remiss to not encourage men everywhere to continue to have conversations about their own health. Whether you open up to a friend or someone professional, it’s cathartic and makes conversations like this more accepted. 

If you’re struggling and need to speak to someone, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Pam> I totally agree with Dan. I loved every minute of working on this project and my creative practice has been greatly enriched. I channelled my late husband the whole time. That filled me with comfort but a level of sadness and reflection too. The timing could not have been better, given that he died in early November. 

Sharing stories is such a crucial part of this project. I was happy to share my story and I was very moved by some of the other stories that were shared with me. There was a high level of trust and caring from everyone. That Sarah Lay from Bullfrog found me, and to have met and worked with such a large, committed creative team seems like both a miracle and that it was meant to be! 

I’m humbled by the level of confidence placed in me because so much of the suit’s success was about the moustache textile. The Mo-Hair Suit is a unique creation and a fitting tribute to all the men who have lost their lives as a result of physical or mental illness. It is simply stunning and will kick-start and keep the conversation going long after Movember... as it should.