It’s impossible to scroll down your timeline without seeing Black models like Maty Fall, Adut Akech, Anok Yai, Mayowa Nicholas and Abény Nhial killing the game. In terms of racial diversity, there has been progression on the runways over the last two decades however there is still progress to be made backstage regarding Black hairstyling. It’s not uncommon to hear stories about Black models doing their own hair or missing out on opportunities because of the lack of education about afro hair. In an interview with W in 2018, former supermodel Tyra Banks revealed that she almost lost her opportunity with Victoria’s Secret because the hairdresser “didn’t know what to do with African American hair." Model or not, many Black women know the feeling of how their hair can have an impact on their employment prospects and fashion isn’t exempt from this.
The lack of expertise surrounding afro-textured hair has often led to models doing their own hair, wearing wigs or going as far as shaving their hair off. However, times seem to be changing with Black talent backstage. Hairstylist Aminata Kamara posted a TikTok video, illustrating what goes on behind the scenes at the Dior Couture Autumn Winter 2023/24 show as a hairstylist. In the video, she’s braiding models’ hair into horizontal patterned cornrows (which Kamara refers to as “canerows”) with a centre parting, ensuring the hairstyle is identical to the other models. Her video went viral, reaching thousands of people across TikTok, Twitter and Instagram. Across the platforms, people shared the same sentiment: it’s extremely overdue for fashion shows to book Black hairstylists. When Black models are in the capable hands of people who are well-educated about Black hair, it’s a win-win, making the creative process easier and creating more opportunities for Black talent to shine in the fashion industry at the same time.
Like many Black hairstylists, Kamara grew up doing hair. “Hair is something I’ve always done when I was younger. I had my little dollies and always did my hair myself. Throughout university, I was always braiding about three to four girls a day,” she says to Unbothered. In addition to her hairstyling work, she’s also a radio presenter for the BBC. Following her redundancy at another job, she fell back into hairstyling, noting, “It’s a blessing to have talented friends who are photographers and makeup artists because we were just freestyling and the fashion opportunities developed organically.”
It was only in January 2023 that Kamara delved into the high fashion space and seven months later, she’s doing big things. “It happened very quickly. I’ve got a friend who works in fashion. He’s a designer named Onye and his brand is called Gravalot. He had me on set one day for a shoot, telling me that he’s doing some work for Paris Fashion Week,” she says. “Then I asked him if it was weird for me to book a ticket to Milan and try to be a hairstylist, after seeing posts about Black models getting poor treatment for their hair,” she says. In response, he mentioned that it would either be a great opportunity or a total disaster. “You can’t just turn up in Milan at the shows saying ‘I’m a hairstylist’, it doesn’t work like that,” she admits. Instead, she began to send out multiple emails to the relevant people, getting in touch with the lead hairstylists and doing her research. “I hounded people on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and their agents and before you know it, I was already on these big shows! It’s been a very quick journey,” she says, laughing. It’s all about putting yourself out there.
“There are a lot of afro hairstylists in the industry, it’s about the lead stylist having a diverse team. Being able to have people like myself who work in those teams and execute these styles,” she says. It’s also about being able to visualise how a particular style would look on Afro hair and Kamara praises stylists such as Anthony Turner (who she’ll be working with exclusively for the next season in September), Cyndia, Guido and Duffy for creating these visions with afro textures in mind and providing her with such opportunities.
As cliche as it sounds, there’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’ and Kamara knows this. “Everything is so collaborative backstage. You might see one final look on a model but trust me, there are at least three or four hands in her head,” she laughs. Echoing this sentiment around collaboration, Aminata emphasises that “everyone is on job backstage.” “For Blumarine in Milan, we had to do box braids in two-three hours but there was no pre-stretched hair! Everyone, even the models, was stretching the hair, we were parting and braiding rapidly.” As Black women, we know how long box braids can take to install but imagine being the model getting fresh braids, walking the show and having to take them out immediately for your next show – the dedication!
Black hairstylists backstage at a fashion show styling Black models shouldn’t be seen as revolutionary but it is. “I’ve worked alongside people who have done this work for decades and they need to be celebrated as much as I’m being highlighted as well,” says Kamara. “We are there but still have a long way to go,” she says. “Anthony Turner, Guido, Cyndia and Duffy design amazing looks for afro hair and I’m honoured to help execute these looks."
Getting into the looks
“The Kenzo show was led by Anthony Turner. I love him, I’m going to be working with him exclusively next season. He said he wanted some finger waves at the front and the braids were done by an amazing braider called Muriel and I stitched it together. I can see in my head what it’s meant to look like.”
“LV was led by Duffy who leads all LV women shows and it was my second time working with him. He said, ‘This is your test – I want you to give me 11 canerows.’ It was so specific and gave me such a headache. It was one in the middle and five on either side. Sometimes the simplest styles are the most stressful and I really wanted to do well, it was my first Louis Vuitton show and we nailed it.”
“That one was led by Duffy too. This was definitely one of my favourite shows because of the diversity backstage. It was such a vibe, with so many Black models and they just felt comfortable. The Bottega show was all about texture and depending on the length of the hair, it was about using your hands to create texture or a texture sponge and working with what they already have. It’s about paying close attention to detail.
“This was led by Guido and we were given very precise direction from Kady Balde – huge shoutout to her. I redid Gifty’s canerows three times! I did it the first time and Kady told me they were too big. It’s about attention to detail and for some people, it can be frustrating but I’m here to learn. If it means I have to take it down a third time and do it a fourth time, I’d do it again! Everything was specific for braiding, parting, pinning and creating the teardrop shape.”