“It’s the funniest thing… when people see my resume they think I must be 65 or 70.
So when they meet me, their reaction is always like ‘oh my God, you’re so young’. Haha! It’s kind of weird. I always want to say ‘I know, I’m not that old. I started when I was 5’.
My all-time favourite client is Samuel L. Jackson; I’ve known him since I was in my late twenties. His original hairstylist, Robert Stevenson, was my boss and brought me up in the system.
I always tease Sam that I started out with him as the ‘hot towel girl’ (he loves to use scalding hot towels to steam his face at night). I’d be waiting by the microwave to push the button and bring them straight over before they lost any heat. We’re always laughing about it now, like “I went from towel girl to number one. I have come a long way here!” Hairstyling with him is about character work and creating wigs. I have been lucky enough to work with him on several projects and designed many unique looks.
I can honestly call Black Panther a gift from god. You never know if a movie is going to do well or not. I’m not even talking about just the box office, but whether people will open their hearts to it, and whether it will really resonate and even bring people together, like this film did.
I think of the looks I designed for it in three parts. In one, you have the very traditional tribal looks; for these, I did a deep dive into Africa, studying different real tribes. I was an observer, and took a little from here and a little from there to create what we wanted our own tribes to have. Next, I went to afro-punk, which is a sort of modern Naturalista look we have here in the US, and that you now see all around the world, which is very bold. And then finally, Wakanda is so futuristic, so I was also thinking about what these sorts of looks could become in 10, 15, 20 years. When I’m designing a movie, I want it to be timeless and classic, because I hate watching a movie years down the track when you can really tell what year it was made. I want it to remain a seamless, transportive experience when you watch it.
I was fortunate that by the time they asked me to head up the hair team for Black Panther, I had been with Marvel for a while, and everyone there really trusted me.
Marvel is a very small family. Believe it or not, if [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige wants to talk to you, he just calls you himself. It’s very hands on. Sometimes it’s a little scary how hands on it is, like ‘oh god, that’s actually Kevin himself calling!’ If he sees something he likes or doesn’t like, he’ll give feedback directly, which is amazing. It’s such a big deal company, but it feels so tight-knit. It’s such a supportive environment, which allows me to be my most creative. A lot of times on other sets, I find myself thinking ‘oh, I wish this was a Marvel movie.’ As an artist, Marvel really supports you and your vision and what you want to do.
I have known the team at HASK for a long time. They’ve always supported me in my career, and my hair teaching company, Hair Scholars. I was at a HASK event with their Chairman, Peter, and told him, ‘you just have to do a curly hair line. Curls are going to be all the rage, and it’s so important for people to be able to embrace their natural texture.’
Then, boom, it happened, and people suddenly really wanted to wear their natural hair and have the right products to support that. The basis of the HASK Curl Care line, which to me is the greatest part about it, is that it contains coconut oil, vitamin E oil, and argan oil, so it’s packed full of moisture but won’t weigh hair down. It also contains a special curl complex which helps fight the frizz. With any type of curls two things are key, right? We all want moisture and no frizz, so those things are handled. The line works whether or not you want to use heat to style your hair, too.
When you’re starting to think about haircare products, remember: everything starts in the shower.
Whether you shampoo once or twice honestly just depends on how dirty your hair is. A lot of the time, I think once is enough. People think they always have to do it twice, but if it’s just the dirt and oil from daily wear, once will be fine.
When it comes to conditioner, you have to find the right balance for your hair and for your scalp.
If you never condition your scalp, you can make it dry, but too much can make it oily, so I tend to recommend applying conditioner just from the mid-lengths down one wash, and then also conditioning your scalp every other wash. It depends on how your hair is feeling. When I do my Saturday night masking ritual, I put it all over and comb it through, because that’s a time I really want to take care of my hair from scalp to ends. People have gotten scared of putting conditioner on their scalps, but remember, we have been putting it there forever. You want to make sure you have the right ingredients, though, and aren’t using drying agents like too many sulphates in your shampoo or conditioner.
I have a little trick I love for medium to fine hair.
After you apply conditioner, take a little shampoo from midway down to the ends, and shampoo the conditioner off. It stops the hair being heavy but still allows the conditioner to have done its job.
Putting on a hair mask has been my pandemic Saturday night activity!
Finding the right product is all about getting to know your hair and its specific needs. For instance, one person might want a really luxurious mask once a week to pack in the moisture, or you might only want to do it as a once a month treatment. My Saturday night routine has been to shampoo, put in the HASK Curl Care Intensive Deep Conditioner, then tie a scarf around my head and sleep in it. I rinse it out in the morning, and it leaves my hair really nourished.
When I work on set, I always start with a leave in spray. It is the base with any styling before I start layering other products.
What I love about the HASK Curl Care 5-in-1 Leave-In Spray is not only is it a thermal protectant, which is a must-have if you are going to style using hot tools, but it fights frizz, detangles hair, and gives it a lot of shine. I spray it in right at the beginning of styling, root to end, and comb it through really well.
It also works to refresh your curls when you don’t want to wash them yet, or as a detangler just before you wash. By the way, using a detangling brush just prior to shampooing is the only time I’d say that it’s okay to brush curly hair while it’s dry. I’d generally advise against it, as the hair will just expand and become frizzy.
Styling products have come so far. Remember when gels used to dry crunchy? Nobody wants crunchy! When I was in high school, you could hear girls’ hair!
Whether you want a lightweight or more heavy duty styling product will depend on your curl and the thickness of your hair, but we all want moisture and definition of the curl. For thicker hair, you’ll want a nice thick cream, but if your hair is medium to fine, a combination of a cream product and a lighter gel texture, like the HASK Curl Care Curl Shaping Jelly, will work well. You can make your own product cocktails, and play with the amounts. There’s also not a lot of build-up caused by the HASK styling products, even if you’re using them every day, which is something my friends tell me they love. So many of my friends have curly hair: Jewish girls, Spanish girls, black girls… I send the products to all of them and ask for their real feedback.
I call Marvel ‘The Wig Factory’. We always do wigs. Everybody gets wigs!
Wig making is an incredible craft and we have great wigmakers. The art really has come a long way. It’s simpler and easier for everyone involved to have wigs; that way, we know everyone will look right. With Marvel movies, we always have to bear in mind we might be matching the hair of two or three stunt people for each actor, as each stunt person is used for their different abilities. So each actor might have a different person doing their motorcycle work, one climbing, one driving… but they’ll all have identical, perfect hair.
Not all of our hair techniques are old school, though.
When I first started at Marvel I went to visual effects school with Victoria Alonso, Marvel’s amazing VP who runs their visual effects department. That way I could learn how the technology works, and how the hair and makeup can meet what the technology can offer. I’ve also learned so much from another Marvel visual effects genius, Chris Townsend. I mean, I’m a nerd! I love knowing about what we can do, seeing it, seeing how improvements are made over time, seeing how we can do better, and seeing how far we can go.
People don’t really know this, but in hair and makeup now we watch the movie and give notes on things we can fix. It’s called a beauty pass.
Some of the major stars have it in their contracts now, that a beauty pass has to happen! Vaseline and pantyhose over the lens used to be the magic. And that’s the business we are in, creating magic, with all the tools we have available to us. Especially with where we are in the world right now, when people do start going back to the movies, it’s about escapism. So guess what, we’ll get the people on our screens to fit that, and make them look beautiful and youthful, no matter what age they are.”