If you want to work with the biggest pop star in the world, you've got one shot to make a first impression. That's how hairstylist Yusef Williams ended up landing a spot in Rihanna's squad 10 years ago. "I go to Paris, and I was supposed to be there for like two days to style her and then go home," Williams says. "It was around 2007, and I gave her this crazy, wavy hair that went straight up in the air. She had colored tips, so it was like her hair was in flames. She looked in the mirror and was like, 'Holy shit.' The next morning [her team asked], 'Can you not leave? We need you to stay for the rest of the week.'"
And so began their friendship, one that Williams now affectionately calls a "hair romance." Since then, Williams has given RiRi curls, undercuts, and everything in between — including the teal mermaid waves she just debuted at the Crop Over Festival in Barbados.
Ahead, Williams dishes on Rihanna's biggest pet peeve on tour, the products she actually uses, and how he styles one of the most unpredictable beauty icons of our generation.
Why Rihanna Owns Every Red Carpet She Walks
"[Rihanna] has a very strong opinion about what she doesn't want to look like, that's for sure. That makes our life a lot easier. I wouldn't want to work with someone who isn't completely confident in what they look like or in their hair. She believes it — [and] she can sell it. Sometimes you see people walking down a red carpet and something ain't right because she ain't owning her shit.
"People have it twisted: A red carpet event is way more stressful than touring. Red carpet is so fucking judgmental."
How They Keep The Inspiration Flowing
"With Rih, we go into things with a collaborative effort. I bring things and she brings things to the table. If you saw our text messages, people would be like, 'Do you guys ever talk?' We just send pictures. We're always flooding each other's phones with inspiration to keep us stimulated because we gotta keep it coming and we always have to be on point at all times.
"We've been pretty consistent with getting it right. We've never really had those moments where she's like, 'Yusef, what did you do?!' Knock on wood. Sometimes she says, 'No, my hair's not going to do that.' Then I turn her around and she's like, 'Oh shit, you did it.'"
Rihanna's One Pet Peeve On Tour
"[Rihanna] touches up her own hair and makeup because she doesn't like a lot of people when she's changing fast. She doesn't want me with a paddle brush in her way. She does it and it's pretty therapeutic for her to take care of those things on her own. We watch her from the audience, and if I see a little hair out of place, I'll run back there and yell, 'Comb the left side!'
Why She's Been Toning It Down Lately
"Rih wants to be a risk taker with her hair and with her style. She can throw on a green lip and green hair, or do corkscrews with an evening gown. We've shaved her hair from the side... we've done a lot. Even these days, when things are just chill and natural and real, it makes people think, 'Cool, she can do that too.'
"She doesn't always have to be that badass, pushing the envelope with a short cut. She likes to pull her hair up in top buns and ponytails, so she can feel chill and normal. I feel like that's a statement too. Girls are like, 'Shit, I don't have to color my hair platinum blonde or cut it off.'"
How He Cares For Her (Natural!) Curls
"Rihanna is natural — we always make her hair soft and pretty. Underneath the wigs and weaves, we are big on hair care and treatment. Rih's mom brings me hair treatments all the time. At the end of the day, you have to want to walk away from whatever you're doing with some hair on your head, so it's really important to take care of it.
"For drugstore products, I love the ORS Olive Oil Moisturizing Hair Lotion. It's good for the hairline. High end, Peter Thomas Roth has a really good conditioner treatment that you can get at Sephora, and that's something that I use a lot. Phyto has a really good scalp treatment as well — I like to put it on and let it sit under the dryer, because it really moisturizes and promotes hair growth.
"Hot oil treatments are my favorite, and raw castor oil is really good to keep the hair solid and strong. Deep conditioners are imperative at all times. And not keeping a wig on your hair for 10 weeks or a weave in your hair for 10 months is, too. You have to let your hair breathe, give it a break, and take care of it. I say that you have to talk to the hair and pray on it. It's real."
The One Style Rihanna Hasn't Tried... Yet
"If I were to do an inspiration board, it would just be of her. Pictures of all the things we've done. There's nothing wrong with going back to certain things because it works — it's who you are, and you made a statement.
"Right now, there's nothing that I can close my eyes and think of that I haven't done that I would want to do. We've done everything except shave her head off!"
Read These Stories Next: