In the world of natural hair, there are tons of community and celebrity hair idols floating around. Folks whose hair we admire and appreciate even if ours is in no way similar. We want nothing more than to know their routine, their fave products, or how they got THAT look, in THAT picture.
Corinne Bailey Rae, and I think you’d agree, is the definition of a Natural Hair Idol. When she and her amazing ringlets hit the scene in 2006, I remember feeling awe struck. To this day, I Google her images for twist-out inspiration.
Well, good news divas! The British singer and songwriter is finally “On the Couch” with CurlyNikki and telling all, even how at one point she wanted to start a natural hair site! It was a challenge tracking her down but it was so worth it. She has a beautiful soul and I’m honored to deliver her story to you! Enjoy!
Her hair story:
I was natural until I was about 13 and then I got my hair permed, weirdly. I didn’t really look after my hair before that, and didn’t know that it would actually grow “curly” on its own. So, yeah, I had a perm, and when I was about 16, I had it relaxed because I had my hair cut really short. It was kind of like “Indie,” like a white boy’s hairstyle [Laughter], because I was in this guitar band. It was really, really straight and I’d wear it off to the side. I remember hoping it wouldn’t grow, you know, so it’d stay sort of as it was when you just had it done (relaxed). That’s very unhealthy, horrible even.
So anyway, the summer before I went to University, a guy stopped me in the street and asked if I’d like to be a hair model for a project he was doing. I said yes, thinking at least I’d get a free relaxer out of it, because at the time, that was a really expensive process. So I did it, but the style was pretty extreme. He dyed the tips of my hair red and cut it really short in the middle. It was this really ghastly hairstyle, a weird vampire theme. I remembered my friend’s mother was getting married like two days after I had it done, and I said to the stylist, “Okay, I need you to do my hair before this wedding, because I have red tips. I’ve essentially got horns. I need it transformed back, relaxed and dyed back to black.”
He claimed there wasn’t enough time! Really? And this was the entire reason I did it (went natural). Just before that wedding, he basically cut my hair down to like an inch or two inches long, cut all the relaxer and hair dye out, and that was it. That was my style. So when I went to University, I had this natural hairstyle, like a tiny afro, really, really short hair. And I’d always wear jeans and a leather jacket and everyone thought I was a Black Panther.
I quickly got used to it. I liked the fact that you could wash your hair regularly and I loved that my hair was curly. I had never noticed it before because I was always pulling it and combing it straight. Finally, I discovered this really good, moisturizing shampoo. I think they were giving away a shampoo at the time on the front of some magazine – “Wella?” So I had a whole load of those and I would wash my hair, get right to the scalp, comb it and then twist it a bit with moisturizing cream and just leave it. And it was a revelation to me that my hair had that kind of texture. And, because it didn’t have a lot of length, it curled really easily and I thought, I’m just going to keep it like this. But of course, it just sort of grew out over time. I remember I used to twist the front and the rest would be in this baby afro and then as it got longer and longer, I’d wind it around my fingers to make more of ringletly-type curls.
Her current hair routine:
These days, I’ve embraced the texture even more. What I do now is wash it, put the conditioner in and detangle it with a big paddle brush, which takes 40 minutes. It takes a while.
I do it from the ends to the roots and then I put it in four or so plaits. I plait the front section and then one in the crown and two at the sides. I leave that for a day or a day and a half. It has to be a day where you’re just hanging out at home.
When I take them down, it’s in those loose kinks from the plaits, but it’s still a bit wet, so then my natural curl kind of comes back in a bit and it’s a combination between those kind of kinks and my normal curls. That’s my staple style.
Her hair in promotionals for her last album:
That was the result of the plaits. You put them where you want them, in the direction you want your hair to go in. I personally like a side part.
So, yeah, you just make the big plaits and dry your hair in those. A lot of stylists tried drying my hair with a blow dryer, but it makes it straight. It’s really weird. The heat pulls out the curl and flattens it. So generally, I just braid it up and let them dry.
On personal hair care and stylists:
I do my own hair much of the time. But, when I’m working, I have different stylists. I have one in London. He’s brilliant, actually. He’s this white guy, the same age as me, British, his name is Kenna, and he has this studio called KennaLand. I find that he has a real sort of fashion forward focus, and he’s really into Afro hair.
He does Emily Sande’s hair, this girl that just came out. She has an awesome shaved, blonde height. He also does Shingai Shoniwa’s hair.
He loves Afro hair. He loves the texture and he never tries to change it or work against it. He’ll think really carefully about how it curls and how to cut it, making sure it’s not too wet, keeping shrinkage in mind. He’s got really great insight.
I don’t care for the hairstylists that make you feel like “Oh, this is going to be hard work,” especially the stylists in England. A lot of black stylists in England are really loathsome to Afro hair and make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you’re not relaxed, or they’ll say things like, “If you ever straightened it, imagine how long it would be.” But, I’m like, “I don’t want straight hair!”
So, yes, Kenna is very good and likes to work with texture and I appreciate that.
The woman that does my hair in New York is from the salon Eva Scrivo. And she does the same. She puts it in the plaits and dries it. But, for the pieces that don’t go curly enough, she’ll wind them around the iron. But, that thing with doing your whole head with an iron and looking like Orphan Annie, I don’t like that.