usic, dance, and hair;
yes, in that exact order for the creative and
ambitious hairstylist, Yusef Williams.
Born and raised in Miami, although he
loved music and dancing, there was another
talent lying dormant, soon to be
discovered, and the rest is history.
During our interview, I found Yusef to be
a well-rounded, down to earth, straight to the
But, we managed to have a few laughs.
He shared with me how his
He held nothing back and gets very candid
about his journey as a hairstylist.
“Well, I started out originally in the music
industry. I was singing and dancing, from
age five until, maybe like hmmm, I would say,
I wanted to do something different – my
mom had clients and styled hair during the
I would always watch her doing hair, just
looking and learning.
My little sisters and little cousins,
whenever they needed their hair done, I would
say, ‘let me try it, let me do it’.
I kind of developed my talent like that,
watching my mom, and just doing my sisters’ and
I did that from the age of 13 years old,
while I was still performing and singing. Hair
wasn’t like my main thing, it was just that I
wanted to be a singer and I wanted to be a
dancer that was it.”
What gives you inspiration?
“I honestly think my family does.” He
says; “All things creative, beautiful, and
different; that’s what gives me motivation;
because growing up my father was a big music
producer, my mother was a singer, so I grew up
in a pretty musical household.
My dad produced music for Bob Marley, my
mom sung background for The Wailers; it was just
a lot of music in my house. I feel like it’s all
in the same boat; it’s still art, it’s still
creating, it’s still magical, and that’s where I
get a lot of my creativity from.”
has a different approach on their work ethic.
very serious. When I was doing music, I was
extremely serious; I was very dedicated, I was
proud of myself.
I had that same approach for hair.”
How did you build up your career until
now, I asked?
“When I left Miami and went to Paris for
a year, that’s when I realized I wanted to do
Because a lot of my friends were models,
I would do their hair for castings.
Well, I was like; if I wanted to do hair
this is the type of stuff I want to do. I wanted
to do fashion shows. I wanted to be the best at
it. I wanted to be the lead guy. I just kept the
same ambition and drive. The person I was
friends with was a fashion designer. I met him
when I was 18 years old, he lived in Paris.
like, “come to Paris and I’ll introduce you to
people.” I met Miss Jay from the Next Top Model,
he became one of my closest friends,
instantly; I got pulled into the fashion world.
I started to meet models that needed
their hair done and things like that. It started
from there, and when I left Paris I came to New
York and realized that in New York you have to
assist the best people in order to build a
resume, and for people to actually respect you
in the industry.
I worked with Lisa Mitchel, who is a hairstylist here in New York.
She was really on top of her game. She
worked with Naomi Campbell, Tara Banks, to name
a few. I assisted her, and then I went back to
Paris to do fashion. I connected with Odile
Gilbert, who does Chanel, and Karl Lagerfeld; she’s
like the woman of hair in Europe.
She does all the shows, all the
campaigns, and I assisted her for about 2 years.
I was going to Paris fashion week, and
basically, just building a resume with all the
right people who really helped me to get to that
I was at the right place, at the right
Yusef has styled many celebrities some of which
have included; Kerry Washington, Tara Banks, and
First Lady Michelle Obama for the cover of
What was that like working with the First
Lady, I asked Yusef. “It was a really simple
She’s super nice. She came in, she was very
caring; she wanted to know everything about you.
It just felt like talking to an old
She said, ‘do what you got to do, just
make me look good.’ What are your favorite hair products?
“I love the Oribe’s products (Orbay);
they’re really great; Right now, I’m using a lot
of Orbey shampoo and hairspray. I’m not really
big on using a lot of hair products because I
think less is more, So usually, when I’m styling
I just use the basic shampoos, I use olive
oils just for moisture around the hairlines. I’m
working on my own product line, which is going
to be amazing, called ‘YW Collections’;
hairspray, shampoo/conditioner, serum for the
hair, and a dry shampoo; all the basic
essentials that one could ever need.”
If you didn’t know, Yusef is known for being the
pop star sensation Rihanna’s hairstylist.
was recently on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar
Arabia. The magazine cover and fashion cover was
simply amazing, I said to Yusef. “It’s such a good team effort and we
just really don’t like to kill ourselves with a
lot of thinking about things and fittings.
That’s why I think it’s really amazing in
working with her; she doesn’t sweat the small
stuff. We show up to photo shoots and we just
our job, she trusts her team and the people she
use for these things to go in and do what they
have to do.
It’s always easy. I think with Harper’s
Bazaar, the only direction was, ‘let's try some head wraps.’
I showed up, I asked where the fabrics were and
started making head wraps. I started making
things creative for her hair, so it organically happened.”
Rihanna was given the Fashion Icon Award for the
2014 CFDA Fashion Awards a couple a months ago.
There was buzz already about her being given
the iconic award. Now, there was even much more buzz
on everyone’s lips about what the pop star wore
on the red carpet. Various opinions and such; Rihanna’s look was simply flawless and amazing.
I figure, while you’re still young and
have a gorgeous body, go for it. I thought let’s
hear it from, as we would say, the horse’s
mouth. I wanted to get the full story
behind the concept. That was obviously amazing.
I said to Yusef.
“That was another look that no one killed
themselves, well the people who made the dress,
yeah they killed themselves,” he says, with a
Mel Ottenberg (stylist) and Adam Selman
(designer), called me two nights before. They
were like, Hey, these are the pictures of the
dress, what do you think we should do with the
hair, and I called Ri and got her on the phone.
I got the pictures of the dress, and she says
that they were thinking about doing like a
turban and I was like, no way, we should do a
“do-rag”; and she’s like shut up; she was like
get him on the phone.
I asked them if they knew what a “do-rag”
Adam googled it and said, yeah I know what a
“do-rag” is, I got one of those.
I said alright; make the same pattern in
They did it; it took them like a whole
day to hand stone that “do-rag”.
Basically, we were hoping for the
best. I was like; I will do some really cool pin
rolls, something that is really chic and sleek.
Ironically, Josephine Baker wasn’t our
inspiration it just happened.
know if she came in the room and said, like hey
guys it’s my birthday (Josephine Baker), we laughed.
“We really don’t know how it happened; it
was amazing; it was the best feeling ever.”
do you think it takes to become a successful
put my time in. I assisted.
have to humble themselves. I think now that social
media is making
people feel like everything is instant. They see
me now they’re like, ‘oh my God he’s doing so
good, I’m so proud of you;’ I’m like yes,
because you see that;
that is not who I am.
Rihanna is an amazing person, she’s like
the best client that I have, but I have also
been to Paris, I’ve done shows, and
I’ve done hair for a lot of celebrities. I think with new hairstylist, they
think that it’s just this instant fame, this
You have to put in the work. You just
can’t post a picture of a hairstyle and think
that someone will call you and, say, ‘hey I want
you to be my hairstylist.’
No, it doesn’t work that way.
really have to put in the work, put in the time.
Things don’t just happen overnight.
assisted, I worked in the salon, and I got an
agent. I went through the steps to become who I
What has been the highlight of your career so
“Touring the world with Rihanna is
probably something that I was not expecting.
It was something that I thought I would
do because I felt that I was so committed to so
many people. I can’t leave my clients, I got to
do this, I can’t do that. I would be talking to
my clients and getting their blessings, they
would say to me, ‘just
go out to the world and come back to us, and show
us what you have learned and what you have seen.’ I think
that was one of the most amazing things that
I’ve ever done.”
Yusef just worked on a shoot with some of
the top iconic names in the industry.
“I just think that everyday things are
topping each other, so it’s hard to say.
I feel like from now on my life is just
going to be full of amazing things.”
As we all know, we would prefer to overlook the
race issue in the fashion industry, from
only having a hand full of different ethnics
walking the catwalk; and certain positions,
if not all, in the fashion industry;
and yes, we have Pat McGrath, who is an
absolute makeup artist extradordinaire. But is
it enough, why only one?
I asked Yusef, what was his pet peeve in
working in the fashion industry and to my, not
so surprise; he gets real
candid with my question. “I would say, as a
black hairstylist, and I hate to do like a race
thing; I just think that it’s really hard. And I
wouldn’t even, necessarily say, that about black
hairstylist, or white hairstylist, or any
hairstylist; I just think that I generally felt
like it’s hard to break these barriers of
magazines and art directors, and creative people
taking chances on new talent and just letting us
showcase our stuff.
There are jobs that I get ask to do, and
then I get put on hold for, ‘oh we never worked
with him with certain magazines’.
Well, how would you ever work with me if
you are not giving me a chance?
And I feel like a lot of black
hairstylists go through that because we’re put
in a situation where we are asked, ‘can you do
white hair,’ ‘can you do this type of hair’ you know white hairstylists get jobs with
black girls and they don’t get asked if they can
do black hair; so that’s not an easy day at the
I just think that it makes it a lot
harder for us to actually get in the doors at
Vogue, W, and Harper’s Bazaar and things like
Asking what my abilities are because of
my race, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves.
If you can do black hair, I think you can
do anything because it’s all types of textures,
it’s everything you know,” he says to me.
“And the most important thing is hair
When it comes to black hair you really
learn what hair care is all about because you’re
dealing with chemicals, you’re dealing with
natural hair, you’re dealing with growth issues.
think we’re put into a lot of challenges.
A lot of
black hairstylists, when you do black hair, and
I don’t think that happens to other hairstylists,
or different races. It’s hard to get in these
magazines to be like the new top hair guy, you
know?” I don’t want a younger stylist to have
to go through all of those stigmas and all of
those challenges just to actually show what
they can do. I just really think it’s
important, that when I look at hairstylists who I
grew up looking at their work, and really
respecting them, such as Oscar James, and Chuck
are guys that basically did the same thing that
I did, and they have been in the game longer
than I have; they work every day, and have
celebrity clients, so I always thought that I
would see Chuck doing Vogue, all the fashion
stories, all of these kind of things; yet,
you see how it really is because this is one of
the most amazing hairstylists, and they don’t let us in,” he says, with a
slight chuckle laugh.
What advice would you give to the aspiring
“You really can’t rely on the instant of
success; you really got to know what the hell
you are doing. It’s
already hard enough and being a new stylist and
wanting to be a celebrity stylist and to do all
these things, I think it’s all about the work.
You really got to work hard, and know what the
hell you’re doing, it's very important.
I hate hairstylists that fake it, ‘fake it
until you make it hairstylist.’ It’s not real
life; if you want to be an editorial guy you got
to know how to give someone that same hair style
that’s going to get her through her week. Not
just for that shot.
You just have to be an all around hairstylist. Do
your research; know your history on fashion.
tell people who are breaking into the industry,
whether they are in hairstyling, makeup, or
anything dealing with beauty and the fashion
industry; I just think that you really need to
know what’s going on.
books on fashion, read books on hair, know who
is designing for Dior in 1962, it’s good to know
these things because it does come in handy to
know what you’re doing, and what eras of beauty
are all about.”