How Vernon François Went From Braiding Mops To Styling Hollywood's Black Elite

Vernon François grew up in West Yorkshire, England where he taught himself how to braid, loc, and style natural hair as a child. His skills landed him his first honor at the Black Beauty/Sensationnel Hair Awards at only 17. He's since become one of Hollywood's most sought-after hairstylists by working with Angela Basset, Lupita Nyong'o, Serena Williams, Amandla Stenberg and many more. The following interview was told to Aimee Simeon and has been edited for length and clarity.
From Mom's Kitchen To Hollywood
"I grew up in a Rastafarian household and it was a tradition for my brothers and me to get our hair done on Sundays. My mom would cook, and while the chicken was stewing it was time to get my hair done. I remember the experience being quite torturous and unpleasant. She would comb my hair and I would scream and shout. I looked at myself one Sunday and I remember being totally unhappy with the way my hair looked. She said to me: 'Well if you don't like it, you can do it yourself.' I used that as fuel. I was like 'okay, I'm gonna show you that I can braid better than you and do my hair better than you.' That's how I got started.
"I braided the fringe on the carpet, the tassels on the curtain — anything that had pieces of string hanging from it I would turn into braids or twists. I soon upgraded to the mop with the yarn threads hanging through them. I used to untwist all of them one-by-one and braid them back together again. I taught myself how to blowdry with a fork and a dryer I found in the dumpster.
"Looking back on it, these experiences gave me a good foundation as a stylist. I am thankful for being born into Rastafarian faith because natural hair is all I was exposed to. I was surrounded by locs and twists, and had an appreciation for hair since childhood. I grew up in the projects and my family was definitely not well off, but I was able to recognize my talent through my frustration and I am grateful for that."
His Big Break
"I won Newcomer Of The Year at the Black Hair Sensationnel Awards in London at 17-years-old. It's a huge deal in Europe and winning that award helped put me on the map. That led me to work with a lot of celebrities who would come from America to the U.K. Early on I got to style Keyshia Cole, Kerry Washington, and Naomie Harris. I also got to work with popular European celebrities, and that's how Lupita Nyong'o got in contact with me. She really helped me cross the pond."
Becoming Hair Besties With Lupita Nyong'o
"Lupita and I have worked together since she was doing press for 12 Years A Slave. I met her and was like 'gosh, your hair is amazing.' I started shooting ideas off the top of my head for what I wanted to do with her strands. At the time her hair was much shorter and she looked at me like I was crazy. But half an hour later, I ended up doing something magical with her and we've been inseparable ever since. She tried to keep me with her for as much as possible, and would always call me when she was in Europe. Once I moved to California everything just flowed and we've been able to create great work together. Word traveled and I began to get calls from people like Solange and Amandla who also wanted to work with me."
His Relationship With Amandla Stenberg
"Amandla is such a rarity in the industry. She is a beautiful woman who knows her worth and strength. She's also a brilliant actress who recognizes the people she collaborates with and their art, which allows me to be 100% myself around her. When we come up with her looks it's very much collaborative and fun. She'll usually show me what she's wearing and, depending on the event, she will let me execute my own vision. We are also mindful of her identity and political views, so we keep that in mind when coming up with looks. I wholeheartedly respect and admire her views so it makes working together easy and fulfilling."
The "Pinch Me" Moment
"My family members and friends were so excited for me when I worked with Angela Bassett for the first time. I was, personally, shitting myself and it was definitely a 'wow moment' for me. When I got to work with her is when I knew I was serving my purpose.
"Thinking of all the amazing women — especially Black women — I get to work with often brings me to tears. I am so enamored by the caliber of people who trust me with their hair. I've worked with some clients who dictate what they want me to do — which is fine — but I am also fortunate enough to work with people who allow me to be me, which in turn allows me to create magic. Working with these women taught me that when you surround yourself with people who strive to be their best selves you can grow stronger together."

"When you surround yourself with people that strive to be their best selves you can grow stronger together."

- Vernon François
Being Black In Beauty
"The conversation on race is one that needed to happen for a long time and I am happy people are having it. I've shown up on set and have had people assume that I was there to deliver food and not do hair, I've heard it all. It's a constant battle in today's climate, but I recognize that I have to be the change I want to see. Every day I just strive to be cool, calm, and educate myself so that I can have educated conversations with others.
"I also always tell artists, especially Black artists, coming up in this space that there is room for all of us. We all have a place in this world so recognize what you are good at and focus on those things. Remain focused, master your craft, and diversify your skills. Realize that there is value in listening, observing, assisting, and even cleaning up — don't be too big to get your hands dirty."

More from Celebs & Influencers

R29 Original Series