A Cut Above the Rest
It was the cut heard ‘round the world. Remember when Rihanna emerged from a budding beauty with boundless locks to a sassy, short-haired siren? That, friends, was Ursula Stephen, slipping her fingers through a pair of shears and giving Rihanna one of the most coveted cuts of 2008. Chasing her dream since high school, Ursula has managed to leave the comfort of her salon days and enter a world of celebrity styling. With Rihanna as one of her largest clients—those of which include Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, Keyshia Cole and American’s Next Top Model winner Saleisha Stowers—it’s only expected that Ursula continues to be one of the most sought after hairstylists around. Even with her tight schedule, Ursula sat down with Honey to share with us how life changed after the infamous cut, her thoughts on being a hairstylist and even hit us with some priceless hair tips (that I will personally use now and forever).
Words By: Danielle Young
Honey Mag: Women spend a lot of time in hair salons. So, what is there to be said about the relationship of a stylist to their client?
Ursula Stephen: It’s a very special relationship. It’s a place where you can go and talk. It’s a crazy connection that you can’t have with anyone else and you trust that person. Being a hairstylist is like being a psychologist. We don’t have this whole code or confidentiality agreement, but it’s unwritten. People trust us. They already trust you to be in their head—that’s your beauty
HM: How do your regular everyday clients deal with you not being available anymore now that you’re more of a celebrity hairstylist?
US: It’s sort of like a double-edged sword. They say things like, ‘I can’t stand you! You left me! Look at my hair!’ And then it’s, ‘Oh my God! I love you! You’re doing so well! I’m proud of you Ursula because you’ve been going in that direction for so long!’ They are happy for me, but sad because they can’t have me anymore. Once you find someone that does your hair well, it’s hard to find someone else just as good. It’s like having a good boyfriend and you break up, you always compare the next person to him. It’s so hard. I feel bad, but I’ve worked in the salon for years. I put my time in, so it’s time to move on and take my career to another level. It was hard to do at first because I felt guilty leaving them, but I had to look at it like that—move on. You’re going to lose, but you’re going to gain. Hopefully in the future, I could open up something because I definitely like working in a salon. It’s like being a chemist. It’s a good thing and keeps your energy because you’re doing ten people in a day.
HM: Everyone knows you for the Rihanna cut and you certainly helped push her career to the next level. So, it that something you see yourself doing more of, working with celebrity clients and redoing their image?
US: Definitely. That’s a lot of pressure, but it happens all the time. Even when I didn’t do celebrities, people would come to me and ask me to give them a different look to see themselves in a different way. It helps build confidence, so I think it’s a good thing that I come in and work with an artist and help them find their look and feel good about themselves. A lot of the time, people don’t realize how important hair is. When you look into that mirror and you feel beautiful, it’s a whole other feeling. I like the fact that I can come in and do it right. It’s time when I like an artists’ hair, but it needs to be tweaked. They may not know what it is, but I can come in and do one little thing and that’s it. I’m glad that I can be a part of helping someone’s career. Especially in working with Rihanna, we work as a team, from makeup to hair to wardrobe and to the artist. Everybody puts 100% forward and you get a product like Rihanna. It’s a matter of teamwork. When you put together a package, you can’t fail. Other teams that we know always compliment us. They love us because it’s what they’re trying to do.
HM: How has your life changed after that one decision to cut Rihanna’s hair?
US: It’s changed a lot. It is so crazy. People are recognizing me for my talent, which is good. I’ve been doing short hair for years and it’s nothing new, but everything goes and comes around. I am happy that I am a part of it coming back around. I’m getting a lot more opportunities to work with different artists. Before it was a matter of my agent contacting people I wanted to work with. Now, I have people calling me because they want to work with me. I think that’s one of the biggest things that people are looking for me now to work with them and it’s a good feeling.
HM: Is there a person that would be your dream client?
US: People always ask me that. I don’t know. It’s not one person. I see people like Serena Williams and think, damn, I wish I could get to her. That’s one person I would like to fix up and show in a different way. I feel like she needs to be tweaked just a little bit. I would like to take on that challenge.
HM: Is there anything, as far as hair products that you swear by?
US: I definitely can’t live without any kind of pomade; I don’t care if it’s .99 or $99. Pomade is my best friend. I’ve been using muds and pomades for the longest and I always mix them. I can’t live without any kind of gloss, not even an oil sheen. I love gloss; that really high shine, especially when it smells good. Oil sheens have alcohol in it sometimes, so it weighs the hair down. Whereas, gloss sits on the hair and just adds weightless shine. The hair looks like glass.
HM: Since you’re one of the behind the scenes people that is starting to get a little notoriety, would you do endorsement deals with any hair products or create your own line?
US: I would definitely do an endorsement. I am looking into that for the new year. I just want to make sure that the product I choose is a great product. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a product that is for one kind of people.
HM: As far as product is concerned. Let’s say something happens and you don’t have your kit or supplies and a client needs something done to their hair. What kind of tricks do you use that are kind of like home remedies?
US: If I have a head full of glue and I need to wash it, I will use dishwashing liquid. Lip gloss on fly aways is one of my tricks. When we’re on the red carpet, I always forget things—thinking I’m cool and all. Then I will see a fly away and I have a makeup artist give me lip gloss to put on them and it works and gives shine. Sometimes if the hair is greasy, I use baby powder to get the grease out.
HM: What’s one of your key things that keeps hair healthy and moisturized?
US: I live by leave in conditioners because I feel like you do what you do to hair while it’s wet; you have to train it. You have to start the process in the wet stage to it’s dry stage. I love any kind of everyday moisturizer. I think that’s the only thing you can use to keep your hair moist between washes. You wash your hair once a week; some once every two weeks, so those 10-12 days in between are the crucial days to me. Always invest in a oil moisturizer, not too heavy. That is the best defense against dry hair. Also, use a heat protectant.
HM: Short hair was obviously huge for you in 08. What do you see coming into fruition for 09?
US: I think it’s still going to be all about cuts; some kind of cut. Even with shoulder length hair, bangs will be precision. It will be about doing something edgy and funky. It’s going to be about cuts for a long time. I think everyday average women should definitely still have a great cut because it says power. You should never have a style that compromises your time and lifestyle.
HM: So what does Ursula Stephen’s future hold?
US: I have a couple of things on the table, but I don’t want to jinx it yet. I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet, but I have a lot of options and requests. It’s going to be decision making time for me in 09, but it will definitely be my year…again! I am going to make some good choices and make a mark in this world.
Be sure to check out Ursula Stephen on http://www.ursulastephen.com