When you enter celebrity stylist and wig maker Hadiiya Barbel’s Manhattan shop, please be sure to refrain from using the “w-word.”
“I don’t call them wigs,” she said to the New York Times. “I call them crowns. A wig is something you take out of a bag and put on your head. It’s standard. It has no personality. It’s ready-to-wear. A crown is couture.”
With twenty years of crown designing experience under her belt, Barbel is known among the top stars including Iman, Angela Bassett, Ashanti and Mya. Her popularity skyrocketed when she became talk show host Wendy Williams’ hairstylist, and her work earned her a daytime Emmy in 2010. Star Jones also gives Barbel praise, crediting the designer for her appearance on last season’s Celebrity Apprentice on NBC.
“People are still talking about the fierce side bun she created,” Jones said to The New York Times. “I defy you to see where the wig begins and my real hair blends in.”
Barbel attended the High School of Fashion Industries in Chelsea, where she was able to realize her calling. She was born and raised in the Bronx’s Fordham section and says that growing up she was tall and awkward. Because she suffered from extremely poor eyesight, she wore thick glasses that made her a focal point of teasing among the neighborhood kids.
“I still feel the pain of that,” she confesses to The New York Times. “It was very traumatizing. I guess that’s part of the reason I’m drawn to making people look good, because I had such low self-esteem growing up.”
Although most people come to simply to find a new sophisticated and cutting edge look, Barbel also has clients who wear her custom crowns because of religious and health reasons. There are also those looking to reinvent themselves after a tough break up or life experience.
One of her clients struggles with thin hair that made her ashamed to leave the house without a hat.
“I would talk to someone and see their eyes going to the top of my head and just feel so awkward and insecure,” she said. “Hadiiya brought me back to life.” Currently, Barbel is working on writing a book about the wig’s evolution and working on a line of lower-priced faux hair that will bring her coveted creation to the people.