The biggest lesson we've learned from Rihanna is to expect the unexpected. Whether it's a surprise Fenty Beauty drop, a jaw-dropping Savage fashion show, that album that seems to never actually be coming, or Rihanna's 2020 NAACP Awards look, her career has long been marked by the element of surprise. That proved true last night as the President's Award honoree arrived at the tail-end of the red carpet in a look that her longtime hairstylist Yusef Williams has been keeping under wraps for quite some time.
It's worth mentioning that everyone's favorite bad gal doesn't make appearances often, instead, keeping us on our toes with the occasional Instagram selfie or incognito poolside flick. But even as her public appearances seem to be occurring less and less, one thing has stayed consistent for more than a decade: her phenomenal hair. "I don’t want anyone to expect anything because it’s always changing," Williams tells TZR exclusvely. "So she can record a song tomorrow and be like 'This is the vibe I want for it,' then the next day, it may change."
So of course for yesterday's celebration, which resulted in the most powerful speech from the NAACP honoree, she graced the audience donning a slick ponytail with cornrow accents, a look that Williams says is reflective of the true nature of his longtime client. "The dress that she’s wearing has a lot of volume to it, it’s super pretty and like girly," he says. "So I just wanted to create some kind of sleek texture and look to go with it because everything is so dainty. I was like we should actually pull your hair back and make you just look super simple, super sweet, and all those good things to bring out who she really is. Soft and hard at the same time."
Williams relied on one of his favorite haircare lines to prep Rihanna's hair: drugstore favorite Suave Professionals. On the heels of Rihanna's birthday trip in Mexico, Williams was tasked with turning beach hair into an awards-ready look with hydration and moisture at the front of mind. That said, prep for the look began a night before the show. "We prepped with a good wash", Williams says. "I used the Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Moisturizing Curl Conditioner. We like to keep her hair super hydrated because we really are doing something to it everyday, whether it be photoshoots or nights like this. The Suave shampoo cleanses while infusing moisture and shine to the hair, while the Moisturizing Curl Conditioner deeply hydrates and helps protect against breakage, which is a must."
When it came to styling, however, ghd and Williams' new hair tools line The Y By Yusef worked hand in hand. Adding a little extra flair to the traditional ponytail that was crafted with the ghd Helios Hairdryer, Williams sectioned off her hair and braided a few cornrows and secured them. "I secured the look with The Y by Yusef hair elastics and bungees to really keep it in place. They're specifically designed to keep thick, curly hair in place without pulling on strands. And of course, there was a little baby hair action, which I used the The Y By Yusef to create."
But the decisions for iconic hairstyles such as last night are not ones Williams makes on his own. In fact, he tells us, it's almost always the result of teamwork. "She’s always been vocal about her hair looks," Williams says. "It’s not new, it ain’t getting different, it will forever be the same. It's actually great because we allow each other to be creative and we push each other to come up with these amazing styles that people talk about for years to come, so it’s like a collaborative effort." However Williams says coming to a common ground isn't always an easy feat. "Yes, we fight too, when it comes to the winner, it's always me," Williams jokes. "She trusts the professional." But one thing the dynamic duo can both agree on is that hair creation should come naturally. "I feel like all of those eras like the Anti era we never had a mood board or anything," he says. "We just kind of went for it however we felt and that’s what it was."
And now, more than a decade in, Williams says watching his friend receive such honors like last night's is heart-warming to witness. "It’s beyond amazing. I’m like her biggest cheerleader. That’s like my little sister, my big brother, all wrapped into one," he says. "And the beauty of her is that she’s not expecting anything, she’s kind of just putting herself where she needs to be and all of the accolades are coming right at her. So I’m just happy to be in all the presence of all of that to see it."
And when asked if he has any details on that long-anticipated album, Williams was able to offer a glimmer of hope, the album cover will feature some badass hair. "I’m going to kill the game, don’t worry," he says. "We’re coming with it I want to let you know, we haven’t talked about the vibe yet, but I do have a vision of what I feel like I want to do so when we sit at the round table we shall see. Of course, I'll win that fight too, I wear the crown."
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