What could possibly be the greatest achievement from working with Marvel Studios? Could it be brushing shoulders with the likes of Chris Evans or Lupita Nyong’o? Perhaps the accolades of being a part of an international cinematic powerhouse would take the cake. For Camille Friend, the lead hairstylist and arguably secret backbone of the Marvel Franchise, neither of the aforementioned suffice. "I get to be the cool auntie," she tells TZR with a wide grin. "All the kids love me because I’m the auntie who works for Marvel."
In 2014, Friend would debut her magic touch as head of the Hair Department to Stan Lee's universe with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She would return shortly after to fulfill the same duties for Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel. Though it may seem like a difficult task to envision the unique hairstyle personalities of each super-being, Friend actually finds it to be one of her favorite parts. Being able to work on an origin story allows her to "put [her] stamp and signature" at the very base of a series.
For Black Panther, this stamp would inherently turn into a beacon of a turning tide for Black beauty. Aside from being the top grossing super-hero film in the U.S. during it's debut in 2018, Black Panther was among the first of its kind to center around Afro-centric traditions. African culture, hairstyles, and fashion were not only woven throughout the film to support its narrative, but were put on a pedestal and gloriously celebrated as the film's protagonists wore these assets like badges of honor. "It was a moment where we could feel empowered to be Black," Friend says. For those who have yet to familiarize themselves, the storyline’s iconic setting is Wakanda: a hidden African country that ceaselessly encompasses cultural elements of the past, present, and future. "I sourced inspiration from traditional Africa and tribal elders to modern families, and how hairstyles may evolve," says Friend. Since the movie's debut in 2018, Friend notes how her work's contributions to Black representation in cinema exceeds every expectation she had. Well, that's if she had any to begin with. "I never count my chickens before they hatch. I focus on the work in the present," she says. "But, as a Black woman, Black Panther will be one of my proudest moments."
In the present day, the Los Angeles resident still has her hands full. How full? Full enough that her boyfriend recently commented on how her phone never stops ringing. The hairstylist recently took her creativity to the upcoming live-action remake of Disney's Little Mermaid, enthroning Halle Bailey with the character's signature red locks. On the day of our conversation, she mentioned how her following afternoon would consist of creating a wig for an upcoming actor in Australia for an undisclosed film.
Though Friend may seem as if she's the complete hyper-focused go-getter who works tirelessly to reach a particular goal, the truth slightly diverges. In fact, her career in hair styling is metaphorically more aligned with something that was written in the stars long before Friend knew it herself. She claims that her present-day success was not imagined when she began her career in her early 20s, but hairstyling has always played a major role in her life.
"I love that hair salon, chemical-y smell," Friend says. What might seem putrid for others, is comforting to her because of how synonymous the scents of the salon are with her childhood. Hairstyling is jokingly the family trade for Camille. She was raised by an arsenal of hairstylists comprised of her mother, aunts, and uncles. Time spent in the salon where her family works in Phoenix, Arizona rivaled the time in her childhood home in Tempe, Arizona. Putting in weaves became second nature at the age of 12. "Lemon fluff shampoo made me so happy back then and I still use it occasionally."
During her early 20s, Friend packed up her bags and moved to Los Angeles where she unsurprisingly found work at a hair salon there. The entrance of her path to movies and TV shows would be paved by her boss at the time who brought her along to work on the 1996 comedy Thin Line of Love and Hate. Her steady hand and skillful eye would then pay off after actress, Simbi Khali, decided to bring Friend along to work on the 1996 sitcom, Third Rock From the Sun. "The rest is history."
Friend's resume is long stacked: Dreamgirls, The Secret Life of Bees, Django Unchained, and The Hunger Games are only but a few major motion pictures that she's been a part of. For each film, Friend does as many successful actors do: become the character herself. Her research is extremely thorough and filled with yearbooks, speaking with subjects, understanding the time era, and trips to the archival libraries scattered around Los Angeles. Renowned actor and model Cicely Tyson even gave her the spill on jazz trumpeter Miles Davis for Don Cheadle's Miles Head and Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.
For Friend, yearbooks are exceptionally one of the most accurate tools for her line of work. "The thing is, movies will be set in, say, the 1950s, and everyone will assume that the character will have a matching hairdo for that time. But, that’s not always true," she says. "Some people don’t change their hairstyles, so that character might’ve had a style from the 1940s. Yearbooks are oftentimes the most telling, and I have a whole collection of them."
Through it all, Friend continues to believe in the power of what a good hairstyle can do. "It's like a designer handbag," she says. "I've witnessed time and time again how a good wig can transform someone; turn them into their character." And according to Friend, this isn't only relevant to actresses or superstars — it's universal.
Opportunities continue to land in the lap of Friend, and the hair guru makes it a point to pay her success back. As TV shows and movies continue to celebrate racial diversity in their casts, it's important for hairstylists to adapt — something that the industry is still working on. "There shouldn't be an actor that steps on set onto the trailer that you don't know how to do their hair or makeup. Those days are over," she says. "And if you don't know, then you need to learn because it's unacceptable." This belief plays a large part in why Friend founded Hairscholars: a mentorship program that teaches students both the technical skills of styling and ropes of the trade. Everything from how to dye properly to getting new jobs and making more money is all taught by Friend herself. "My goal is to offer my hand and bring people up to fill these spaces."
Friend reassures that not every day is a good updo. Her days get tough and sometimes her evenings are met with a few shed tears from her busy schedule: "Meditation. I swear by it." Beginning her practice nearly two years ago, Friend notes how centering herself and focusing on the present is what keeps her sane through her busy schedule. "This career is filled with ups and downs, lefts, and rights. It's nice to feel grounded." Her glowing eyes allude to her excitement for her next session of calmness and is only met with a sharp ding queuing the arrival of a new email.