EFM Exclusive Story - Hair Stylist Yusef Williams





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 point personality. But, we managed to have a few laughs.  He shared with me how his career started.  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, eighteen.  I wanted to do something different – my mom had clients and styled hair during the weekends.  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 cousins’ hair.  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.”

Everyone has a different approach on their work ethic.  “I’m 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 hair.  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. He was 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 point.  I was at the right place, at the right time.”

Yusef has styled many celebrities some of which have included; Kerry Washington, Tara Banks, and First Lady Michelle Obama for the cover of Essence.  What was that like working with the First Lady, I asked Yusef. “It was a really simple day.  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 friend.  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.  Rihanna 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 create.  That’s 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.’  When 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 laugh jokingly.  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” is.  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 those stones.  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.  I don’t 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.”

What do you think it takes to become a successful hairstylist?   “I put my time in. I assisted.  People 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 instant success.  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.  People really have to put in the work, put in the time.  Things don’t just happen overnight.  I assisted, I worked in the salon, and I got an agent. I went through the steps to become who I am.”

What has been the highlight of your career so far?  “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 office.  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 that.  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 care.  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.  I just 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 Amos.  These 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 hairstylists?  “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.  I 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.  Read 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.”





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