If there was anyone whose effortless curls caused envy and confusion growing up, it was Joan Clayton of UPN’s hit TV show Girlfriends, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Understandably so, her hair debuted at a time when natural curls weren’t popular and a lot of women were uneducated on how to care for their original coil pattern. Fast forward 19 years later and Tracee’s curls are still poppin’ as she plays the role of Rainbow Johnson on ABC’s Black-ish. Though this time, she’s sharing the curly girl crown with on-screen daughter Yara Shahidi, whose IRL hairstylist Nai’Vasha Johnson is literally a “Curl Queen.”
Johnson, who has a client roster including the likes of Janet Mock, Thandie Newton, Zendaya and Logan Browning, all of which share two things in common: good hair and textured tresses. Before you call us out, the “good hair” note doesn’t come in a form that praises a hair type, silkiness, or length, but with attention to the health state of their locks instead. Johnson has a niche for addressing textured strands and formulating them into beautifully styled coiffures while maintaining the vitality of the kinks. What’s her secret you urge? Well, we wanted to know too so we asked her a few questions about her start, her favorite looks and how she became one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stylists.
“I started styling hair when I was a child in Memphis, Tennessee” Johnson explained. “Immediately after high school I went to cosmetology school and didn’t finish. I just didn’t feel quite passionate about it. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I revisited the idea. I decided to attend Paul Mitchell the School in Atlanta and dive deep into the industry.” Doors started opening for Johnson after she worked with some reality TV stars and Hollywood soon called. Eventually, she started working with Yara Shahidi and quickly became notable for some of her best red carpet moments.
“With this look [above], I decided to reach into the 1920’s vault and celebrate Coco Chanel’s iconic haircut using Yara’s own texture. This was a lot of fun and so much symbolism attached.”
“I’m super passionate about hair because I get the opportunity to transform hair into a moment in time. The process is gratifying. My sweet spot with hair is curls. I’ve studied curls, I understand curls and I am curls. My close friends started the name [The Official Curl Queen] because of my obsession with curls; it was perfect and befitting.”
Case in point: Shahidi’s ponytail for her first-ever Met Gala. “The ultra-long Met Ball pony [above] is when Yara opted for a whimsical Chanel gown which had a personality of its own. Therefore, we decided to go for subtle whimsy hair and wear an ultra long textured ponytail. No one had ever worn kinky curly long like this, so it was fun to do and different.”
“[Here] Braids and beads, that look was a homage to Stevie Wonder. We wanted to do something fresh and fun but meaningful for the time. The braids also were a cool compliment to her dress.”
As you can see, there’s no secret sauce or shortcut toward success. All it takes it good old fashioned hard work and in most cases–time. “I recommend to the up-and-coming [hairstylists] to practice your artistry, study trends, and never stop learning,” says Johnson. The most important aspect to remember about curls and texture is to not handle it too much. It creates frizz.” Duly noted.