There’s a striking moment in Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story when the young Queen (played by India Amarteifio) is about to walk down the aisle, in full view of the disapproving royal court, to greet her new husband, King George. She denies her soon-to-be mother-in-law's wishes and is wearing an elaborate custom-made gown instead of a dowdy satin garb, her hair is styled in a big, wide, and proud afro and is an example of her refusing to compromise herself or hide her “moor” heritage. The scene plays an important role in the origin story of the uncompromising and illustrious Queen Charlotte we’ve come to know in the Bridgerton series (played by Golda Rosheuvel) whose large and elaborately adorned textured hair wigs remind those in her presence that, much like her hair, Queen Charlotte rightfully takes up space.
Queen Charlotte’s regency-core take on Black hairstyles are a result of the show’s head stylist Nic Collins and team, while on the red carpet, Golda Rosheuvel, seems to have remained true to her famous character and has been seen wearing a wide range of queenly natural hairstyles all thanks to the creative vision of London-based celebrity hairstylist Dionne Smith. As the Queen Charlotte press tour gained full steam, the Guyanese-British actor looked like a different woman at every press event — a glorious afro turned into structural Bantu knots and a “flicky” wavy wig soon became an elaborate braided updo and a mohawk. Smith’s videos of Golda’s hair transformations have been going viral, with one of the videos reaching over 1,000,000 views on Instagram reels. Dionne Smith’s comment section has also been going wild, with Queen Charlotte fans praising the stylist for helping the “Queen slay and serve looks each and every time.” For Smith personally, all the love for her creative styling prowess proved there is a thirst for more natural hairstyles on major platforms.
“I really wanted to show that Black hair is just very versatile. There are no rules."
Dionne Smith, celebrity hair stylist
“I was just really excited to just show Golda in different ways,” Smith tells Unbothered over Zoom, “and what I love about Golda is that she really embraces texture.” “[With each hairstyle] I wanted to prove that she could show up as a different woman every day. And sometimes I styled her twice a day,” she added. “I really wanted to show that Black hair is just very versatile. There are no rules. You can wear a wig. You can wear your natural hair, you do whatever you feel like doing and whatever makes you feel good. And that's what it was about for me just playing with looks.”
Smith tells me that working with both Rosheuvel and Amarteifio on the Queen Charlotte press tour — creating a diverse array of hair looks for TV, magazine shoots and the red carpet — helped reaffirm her “mission” to promote the versatility of Black hair. In the celebrity circuit, Smith has become sought after for her work on natural textured hair after her first major client, Venus Williams, discovered Smith’s work from a Pinterest page, and went on to have her hair styled for Wimbledon. Smith, who started her 20-year career after establishing a salon in London, has since gone on to do the hair of Regina King, Danielle Deadwyler, Lashana Lynch and other Black British celebrities such as Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock and presenters Clara Amfo and Julie Adenuga.
“It all started like some time ago,” Smith reflects. “I remember a bride getting in touch with me. She's been natural her entire life and she's never had a hair relaxer. She was getting married and she said she had gone to four hairstylists before she found me and every single one of them told her that she needed to relax or straighten her hair for her wedding. And she was like, ‘well, I've never had [my hair] straightened and I've never relaxed it, so why would I do it for my wedding? I'm going to be looking at these pictures for the rest of my life. I want to recognize who I am.’”
Smith said the bride broke down in tears when she stressed she could absolutely wear her natural hair on her wedding day and feel and look beautiful. This touching moment became a catalyst for the trajectory of Smith’s career as she realized many Black women were battling with the corrosive misconception that Black hair in its most natural state can’t be viewed as sexy or glamorous.
"I love that more [Black celebrities] are embracing texture and not feeling pressured to wear straight or wavy wigs..."
“I decided to make it my mission to show people that they can wear natural hair and it can look regal, sexy, and chic,” she adds. “You don't have to always put extensions in, you don't have to always put wigs on or wear straight, silky hair. So I went out [into my career] with the intention to make that point. And now, even though I do everything — I am a full-service professional hairstylist who can cut, color, do wigs and all hair types — I fall into the category of a natural hair expert because of that mission.”
The idea that natural hairstyles such as braids or twists aren’t “glamorous” sadly became a Black Twitter debate over the past year, when one TikTok user confessed she felt uncomfortable wearing braids to go the club — so much so she wouldn’t go out if she had box braids installed. Many responded to the now-deleted video revealing they also felt pressured to wear frontal wigs to party settings, while others called the user out for what many believed was deep-seated anti-Blackness, rooted in the preoccupation with Eurocentric beauty standards. While these conversations have the potential to be harmful, given the pervasive nature of beauty standards, it’s easy to see where these insecurities came from. “There's quite a divide between your natural hair girls and your wig-wearing girls,” Smith agrees. “And it doesn’t have to be like that,” she insists.
The celebrity hairstylist believes Black celebrities wearing natural hair on major platforms are helping to push back at some of these harmful narratives. “Now we're in this space where I've got people like Golda, Sarah Niles (Riches), and Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix asking me to style their natural hair, and I just feel like, wow, no one's saying straighten it, or blow dry it — not that it would be a problem! — but it's nice that people don't feel pressure anymore. And I may be blowing my own trumpet but I do feel like I've had my part to play in that.”
Smith also has noticed a significant shift towards natural hair acceptance since she first began working with Black celebrities at major red-carpet events (many will remember the Oscars 2015 fallout after Zendaya’s faux-locs were described by one white presenter as smelling “like patchouli oil or weed”). For the stylist whose influence helped Dyson create its first afro-pick tool for its celebrated supersonic hair dryer, the overarching impact of Black celebrities wearing natural hair on and off-screen shouldn’t be understated.
“It's almost like if they can do it, why can I?” stresses Smith. “A lot of us do look up to celebrities, we look up to what people are doing on the red carpet and we are in awe of these people. If we see them [wearing their natural hair on the red carpet] it’s almost like a green card to say oh, my afro is fine. It shouldn't have to take celebrities [for us to be comfortable with our hair in its natural state] but they are doing their bit. I love that more [Black celebrities] are embracing texture and not feeling pressured to wear straight or wavy wigs. Like I said there's nothing wrong with that. I love all hair. I just want people not to feel pressured into doing anything and to just be free. That's my motto: be free.”
Smith describes her work with Golda Rosheuvel and India Amarteifio as “play” and a reminder that Black hairstyling in its essence is “fun” — and importantly gives Black women the creative freedom to show up in the world however they want to. “And I just think that it doesn't matter whether you wear a wig, or want texture, or straight. Hair care is there for us to be able to do what we want. So let's do it,” says Smith. “Why can't we be a different person every day? What's wrong with that?”