Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet celebrity hairstylist Vernon Francois. (That’s his real last name, FYI, and he’s also a natural redhead with parents from Grenada and Jamaica. So Interesting!) Despite working with A-list beauties like Lupita Nyong’o, Ruth Negga, Tracee Ellis Ross and Uzo Aduba, when I entered the suite at the Gramercy Hotel in Manhattan to see him, he greeted me like I was one of his big clients: all hugs, selfies, hair tips and good vibes. Honestly, I felt more loved by Francois and his team than I usually do with my own stylist.
But aside from getting an amazing updo (which he used thread to hold in place), I was there to learn about the 31-year-old Yorkshire, London native and his new line of products tailored to natural hair and big curls. If your hair is curly, no matter what state it’s in, he has a product for you. He even had quite a few for locs. That includes my personal favorite, the Scalp Nourish~ment Braids and Locs Spray. “It’s about time that we do a beautiful collection in a luxury space that caters to the consumer who has locs and braids,” he said about the product. It’s a light, dry oil that actually penetrates, which many sprays for locs don’t do without being greasy. There’s also an upcoming loc and twist concoction. I was able to test it out. It’s thick but goes on light, and it makes hair look shiny without looking too shiny. “It’s a loc control,” he said, “but for locs and twists basically.” But there’s also something for chemically damaged hair, for afros and for wavy curls. You need it? Francois has it, and the line has “been selling like hot cakes.”
So we talked with the vibrant Francois about how he got his start as a self-taught stylist, how he linked up with Lupita and what it’s like working with his clientele around the world. We also got some tips on how to have fun with short hair, which can feel limiting for some. Learn more about him and get inspired.
How He Got Started Doing Hair
“Sunday afternoons were dedicated to two things: Getting my hair done and cooking Sunday dinner with family. What I remember distinctly one day was not being really happy with the outcome of what my mom had done with my hair. She politely turned around and said, ‘If you don’t like it, do it yourself.’ And so that’s how my journey began. That’s how I started teaching myself how to loc and twist. I would use the fringes of the rugs and tassels. The rest is history. I just did my friends’ hair, the girls who were going to Carnival, it just became synonymous with me. Before you know it, I’m standing here — looking kind of cute doing your hair [laughs]. That really propelled me into the industry. That world was specializing in afro, curly, textured hair. That was about 2004. I just traveled and worked while keeping clientele I tend to in London, New York and L.A. I don’t have a base I work from but I have studios I operate from. No matter all this exciting stuff and traveling that I’m doing, I’m still able to explore and do what makes me happy, which is hair. So to be able to maintain and tend to clients who want me to do their hair, in the process of traveling and doing everything else, it kind of keeps me grounded.”
How He Met and Started Doing Lupita Nyong’o’s Hair
“I met her through a mutual friend. I met her, we hung out for like an hour or two while I was doing her hair. I did something, she looked in the bathroom mirror and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere!’ The rest is history. We haven’t looked back. To have her sort of approve and support me through this process has meant more than anyone would have ever imagined. I always say, our connection, Disney wouldn’t have been able to write this story. All the stuff we have coming up, what we have done together, our collaborations, how we work together is so rewarding from an artist perspective to another artist’s perspective. She understands hair and can do it herself. There’s nothing more rewarding than someone who understands your craft respecting you for your craft and booking you because of your craft.”
The Inspiration Behind Lupita’s Recent Headwrap-Centered Looks
“We constantly go back and forth with ideas. She was very clear with how she wanted to represent The Queen of Katwe. For the past year or two she has wanted to sort of put it on the map that it’s okay to embrace traditional values. The way that you can do that doesn’t have to be so so traditional without it still having an edge. Me and Tonne Goodman, Vogue‘s style editor, we went shopping around markets in Africa to get the brocade fabrics for her shoot. The designers then had to be inspired by the fabric to design a dress.That’s how it all worked and why it was so cohesive. It was a big production, but she had a vision and it’s our job to make sure we follow it through and help execute it with our creative input. We did research for months and then she would tell us, ‘Today I want this headwrap to be more focused here or less focused there’ and she would just lead me to it. That’s how we got on with it.”
What It’s Been Like Working with Loving Star Ruth Negga
“She really loves her curls. To be completely honest, the way she wakes up, she loves it. But I’m like, ‘Okay, let me just take it and do something [laughs].’ You can’t just walk out, which is what she would do if she could. But she’s all about embracing her natural texture, which falls in line with everything I do and what I’m about. We just go with the moment and really explore. We just have a ball and we’re building a really good relationship and I think honesty helps that. She knows I can create pretty much anything, just tell me what you want and I’ll figure it out.”
Tips for Women Who Can’t Figure out What to Do with Short Hair
“Explore. Look around for references. I was so excited to explore how many looks Lupita and I could do and what challenges I had. Same thing as when I started working with Ruth. There you have soft, wavy, short hair. Yes, I’m a hairdresser, so I have knowledge and can work and manipulate other hairs into the hair texture. But the reality is that it’s all in your own vision. If you lack the ability to see beyond what you’re looking at, you’ll never get further than that. And you have to stop wanting to look and copy somebody else and look at what we can do ourselves. Use it as inspiration rather than trying to interpret what they have. Use your hands. Get involved with the combs and section your hair. Just play.”
If He Has a Specialty When It Comes to Styling
“No! Hair is hair. I always said my goal was that anyone who walked in the salon, I could be able to do anyone who walked into a salon for a service. No matter who you are or where you come from, I should be able to do your hair and make you feel wonderful by the time you leave, and that’s always been my goal. No one hair is better, it’s just how you process it and what you do with it. It’s also a challenge, which I really like. To stay motivated, you have to challenge yourself to stay empowered, to stay inspired.”
Images via Instagram