Chaka Khan has always been larger than life to me. I remember sitting in the back of my mom’s car as she blasted the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack on repeat, and I’d always sing along when “My Funny Valentine” came on (even if I didn't understand the words at six years old).
When I first saw the face behind those soft chords — her bright smile, red lipstick, and flowing burgundy hair — she reminded me of the many other strong Black women in my family. The cool aunt who gave me my first glitter eyeshadow, the older cousin who taught me how to two-step, and yes, the mother who introduced me to her powerful music in the first place. (Clearly, Chaka Khan was on to something when she sang, "I'm every woman, it's all in me.")
From the start, hair has been a critical part of Chaka Khan’s on-stage persona. She was sporting a picked-out Afro when she recorded hits like "Le Freak" in the '70s. She rocked a bouncy, blowout with blunt bangs when she belted the lyrics to "Ain't Nobody" in the '80s. And though she's worn a myriad of other styles during her four-decade career, I always envision her with a head full of maroon curls, which is the style she's rocking on the album cover of her 2019 single "Hello Happiness" — and the one she was wearing when I met her in a hotel suite in New York City to discuss her new wig line with Indique that launches today.
While Khan wore her natural hair for the majority of her career, she's relied on wigs for the last decade to get that signature Chaka look. “I wasn't wearing wigs in the beginning. I’ve always had a lot of hair, but my hair was soft and fine,” she tells me. “I was wearing clip-ins for a long time and clipping in feathers to make it look bigger.” She also used a lot of hairspray to get that ‘80s volume. “I hated the hairspray — it gets hard and sticky when you are sweating on stage. It’s just a mess. But I didn’t care then, I was living my best life. I was just having fun.”
My hands were red, my clothes were red. That’s what started me wearing all black because my hair would bleed.
Of course, her signature style isn't complete without that classic red color. “[I used] Rit dye to start. It’s for fiber. It colors blouses, pants, and hair,” she explains. “My hands were red, my clothes were red. That’s what started me wearing all black because my hair would bleed.”
Thankfully her longtime hairstylist, George Robert Fuller, introduced Khan to wigs, which cut down on the hairspray and stained palms. “It became too cumbersome to try and get her hair done because she would rather rest,” says Fuller, who was perched next to her during the interview. “The first couple times she didn’t want to wear them. It was too hot, and we fought about that. She only started really wearing them in the 2000s.”
Her brand-new Indique line includes two full wigs — one with voluminous curls and another with a straight blowout look — that are both meant to mimic Chaka Khan's signature styles and withstand her lifestyle. "These are the most natural and weightless [wigs], and when the wind blows, you can feel it on your scalp and it won’t blow off," she says. “I have fallen down stairs. I have done many a things, but never have I lost my hair. Hell to the no. Nothing short of decapitation.”
Both the iKhanic Straight ($699) and the iKhanic Curl ($699) from The Chaka by Indique Collection are available at chakabyindique.com.