Black hair and makeup artists are getting more of the high profile fashion gigs that once eluded them despite excelling in their fields, having honed their skills as assistants to top fashion creatives or members of celebrity glam squads.
Cyndia Harvey, Sheika Daley, Nikki Nelms, Kellon Deryck, Ursula Stephen, Latisha Chong, Raisa Flowers, Lacy Redway and Jawara are among those whose work now regularly appears on runways, red carpets, in magazines and campaigns.
“For so long, fashion hairstylists have been largely white European men,” said hairstylist Lacy Redway, who has worked with FKA Twigs, Yara Shahidi and Alicia Keys, and recently styled covers for Vogue Arabia, W and VMan. At New York Fashion Week this season, Redway led the hair teams at Laquan Smith and Staud Clothing.
“In the past, there were very few of us that were Black backstage,” she continued. That despite the fact that Black hairstylists often have unique skills born from experience working more frequently with Black hair. “We were the ones capable of creating all sorts of hairstyles, not just excelling at textured hair, but also braids,” she said.
“Because Black people do so much to their hair, in the hierarchy of education, there’s so much that you learn from doing Black hair that you can apply to all different types of styles,” added hairstylist Jawara, who is senior beauty editor-at-large at i-D and works with top brands like Burberry and Gucci. “There’s a heightened skillset. An understanding of curl and texture and manipulation of texture that comes when you have been working and learning on Black hair,” he explained.
This season, Jawara devised the slicked-back styles for Christain Siriano’s runway show, styled Beyonce’s tresses for Tiffany’s blockbuster “About Love” campaign and September’s Harper’s Bazaar cover, and worked with Anok Yai and Paloma Elsesser on their looks for the Met Ball.
Having access to mentorship and role models to emulate has been key. Jawara was mentored by Sam McKnight. Redway assisted Guido Palau, Odile Gilbert, Eugene Souleiman, Didier Malige and Luigi Murenu. Flowers, who has recently worked with Vogue, W and 032c, as well as MAC Cosmetics, apprenticed with Pat McGrath and credits Priscilla Ono, global makeup artist at Fenty Beauty, with helping her get started.
Hairstylist Latisha Chong, who has recently worked on Tory Burch campaigns and covers for i-D and American Vogue, has long looked up to Jawara and Jimmy Paul. “So, I’m like, wait, [Paul] survived all of these different styles and eras. What did he do to keep reinventing himself? That was a major thing for me,” Chong said. “With Jawara, it was like seeing someone that looks like me who’s never occupied that space before.”
A new generation of Black celebrities has also helped to drive change. Traditionally, photographers and magazine editors led the selection of their hair and makeup teams for shoots. Now, celebrities are more firmly in the driver’s seat, many of them Black, and they have pushed the use of their own glam squads, resulting in many more Black hair and makeup artists getting high fashion gigs.
Kellon Deryck has parlayed his role as Megan Thee Stallion’s hairdresser into styling the singer for recent Harper’s Bazaar and W covers. Sheika Daley, Zendaya’s go-to makeup artist for red carpet appearances, has done recent projects with W, Elle and Vanity Fair. Meanwhile, Ursula Stephen, one of Zendaya’s hairstylists, recently styled the actress for a Lancôme campaign, GQ cover and British Vogue editorial.
Has the racial reckoning of 2020 also played a role?
“I hope it is not just because of the Black Lives Matter movement and because organisations have called out our industry for not having enough people of colour on set, but for the hard work that I’ve put into the industry,” said Chong.
Said Flowers: “I feel like I put in the work to see this outcome now.”