Letting their hair down: Melbourne wig business turns 65

Abe Lourie has been in the wig business since 1957 and usually prefers to let his products have the spotlight rather than himself.

His Swanston Street store has provided wigs and hairpieces for everything from Phantom of the Opera to the movie Braveheart and Tina Turner tribute acts.

Joyce McGuinness, a customer of 48 years, with Creative Wigs founder Abe Lourie.Credit:Scott McNaughton

It has helped people with cancer, baldness and alopecia of all ages.

But Lourie, 93, did something unusual on Friday. To mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of his company, Creative Wigs: he hosted a party for longtime clients.

“We’ve never done it before,” says his grandson Joel Grosman, who is now the company’s managing director.

“It’s quite an amazing achievement. And it’s a good opportunity to say thank you, to the people who’ve been a part of our history for so long.”

Technically, Lourie has handed the business to Grosman, 34, but he still keeps a keen business eye on Creative Wigs, coming in about once a fortnight.

“He checks that everything is in order, he likes to see the new products,” Grosman says.

Lourie is touched that customers still seek him out and greet him warmly. “I love talking to them and they love talking to me. We go back, some of them, over 50 years,” Lourie says.

Asked what the secret is to surviving in business for that long, he says, “understanding people, getting to hear their stories and we help them in so many different ways”.

Proud Pa: Abe Lourie and his grandson Joel Grosman, who now runs Creative Wigs.Credit:Scott McNaughton

At the party was Joyce McGuinness, 84, of Melton, who has been a customer for 48 years.

She lost her hair after she cut her head on a window lock in her native Malta when she was 12. It never grew back.

She looks forward to her trips to the store for a new wig. “Every time I wear a new one, I feel a lot better,” she says. “I say, ‘I’m a lot better today because my hair is nice’.”

McGuinness’ latest piece is a smart, short grey do, but in the past she’s tried out blonde, red and brown wigs.

Abe Lourie with Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp, who says Creative Wigs’ longevity was ‘absolutely extraordinary’.Credit:Scott McNaughton

She discovered Creative Wigs soon after migrating to Australia in 1974. She says for the business to last 65 years was “good going”.

“They’re very good people, very nice. They’re always cheerful, and I like cheerful people. I like to laugh.”

McGuinness says today she buys synthetic wigs, but they are more comfortable than they used to be, with soft plastic underneath that moulds to your head and looks like skin.

The party also marked Creative Wigs’ survival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During coronavirus lockdowns, Grosman confesses he didn’t tell his “Pa” how he feared having to close for good.

“I thought, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this’.”

And so Creative Wigs pivoted to online and phone sales for a time. The film industry continued, as did orders from interstate and overseas clients.

“It was a shift in mindset,” Grosman said. “It was either that or bust.”

Lourie is very proud of Grosman. “He did what he had to do,” the older man said.

Creative Wigs has resumed accepting in-store customers and Lourie is happy. “Some people want to come and feel the wig, and see and put it on,” he says.

Also at the party was Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp, who said: “I think it’s absolutely extraordinary, in this day and age, that a small business like this has survived for 65 years.”

She said Lourie had served customers “going through extreme medical situations” and also assisted trans people and drag queens “who can come and transform into who they really are”.

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