Bidens Inauguration and why Beauty and Fashion took centre stage.
Vogues editors Akili King, Lauren Valenti and Hannah Coates explain why Hair, Beauty and Fashion play an integral role in today's modern political society.
But first read about how Yene Damtew created Michelle Obama's Incredible Inauguration Hair Look.
“I’ve always been a stylist at heart,” says Yene Damtew, the hairstylist behind Michelle Obama’s flawless look at the 2021 inauguration (make-up artist Carl Ray oversaw the glam, using Fenty Beauty, no less). “Growing up, you’d always find me with a doll in hand, styling her hair.”
Damtew quickly became her neighborhood’s go-to hair expert. Then, at the age of 16, she enrolled at Cerritos Cosmetology School in LA County, where she deepened her knowledge of the craft. In 2017, she opened a two-chair salon called Aesthetics in Arlington, Virginia, before opening a bigger one, just down the block, in 2020. Expanding her business during the global pandemic came with anxieties, of course. “I worked with a small team of local contractors to make my dream a reality, even though it was really challenging some days,” she says, adding that she had to shut down shop for a few months at the height of the pandemic. When they eventually did open, she adjusted accordingly: stocking up on hand sanitiser and PPE for clients and staff, adding temperature checks, and requiring that everyone wear masks inside at all times. “Luckily our clientele has been supportive of everything, even with appointments more spaced out so we maintain safe social distancing inside,” says Damtew.
When she’s not at the salon or working with celebrity clients, Damtew runs a virtual educational program, The Academy, which helps budding hairstylists sharpen their business skills (she has a business degree from Marymount University in addition to her styling credentials). As for how she came to create those voluminous curls for Michelle Obama for President Biden’s inauguration ceremony? - Vogue
What was it like when Michelle Obama approached you to do her hair for the first time?
I started working with her more than a year ago through one of my mentors. While [she was] in the White House, I primarily worked with her mother and two daughters, but would often assist with her hair. We formed a deep bond and relationship that way. Years later when she approached me about working with her full-time, I was truly humbled. I’m honoured that she trusts me. It cemented that voice in my head that tells me I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to.
What’s one of your most memorable moments from working with the former first lady?
Probably a few years ago when we did the Essence magazine cover where the world saw her rock her natural curls for the first time. That was a really defining moment not just for me, or Mrs Obama, but for the millions of Black and brown women who’ve been told their natural curls are not professional or worthy to praise. As a woman of colour who personally changes her hair often, that moment was validation for other women who struggle with having the courage to take a drastic step in their own hair journey. I was really proud of that moment and all it stood for.
Walk me through how you achieved Michelle Obama’s look for the 2021 inauguration. What products did you use, and what were your inspirations?
It wasn’t something I dreamed up days in advance. It came to me when I saw the look Meredith Koop had pulled for her to wear. I used several tools and products for this look. I started with creating curls with a one-inch barrel iron. Yes, you can achieve bigger curls with a smaller barrel! Next we did a curl set to lock in the curls. Then I used a round brush to create body and “soften” the curls. I finished it off with a feather comb for some volume and then hair spray so it would hold. This is definitely a look anyone can achieve at home with a little practice and patience.
Tell me about some of your personal favourite hair products
I have a number of products and tools that I use depending on the look I’m creating. My kit always has a good feather comb, a rat tail comb, a solid pressing comb, a Marcel golden supreme iron, and a flexible hair spray like Oribe Superfine.
What do you love most about what you do?
It’s the human interaction for me. I love working with my clients, hearing their story, and then sharing that story through their hair. Whether it’s a new mom looking for new hair colour or a client celebrating a milestone birthday with a big chop – hair styling is like storytelling. We are storytellers. We’re just telling someone else’s story. There’s nothing like listening to a client, bringing their vision to life and then watching then get up from my chair with that pep in their step and a smile on their face.
Tell us more about your virtual business Academy for emerging stylists
During the course of my career, I’ve found that a lot of stylists are super talented and very successful but they were never taught the business side of what we do. You’re not just a stylist, you’re a businessperson – even if you work for someone else. I think it’s important for emerging stylists to do some internal grooming on themselves and their mindset before grooming others. My Academy teaches how to properly operate your business, so you can go from simply running a business to driving one.
Tell us about your “good hair is healthy hair” philosophy and why that messaging is important
We hear it all the time in the Black community, this notion of “good hair” and what that is. People think it’s based on how you look or what your texture is. That could not be further from the truth. Good hair is healthy hair. Period. I will always stand by that. You can have good, healthy hair regardless of its texture or length. I try to work with each individual client to teach heathy hair. Sometimes that includes trimming hair, certain treatments, or making sure they drink enough water. I also work with clients to embrace their natural hair, regardless of its texture.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a Black woman in the industry?
Like many other industries, we have to work harder and smarter than most. We also get boxed in very early on in our careers. People assume we can only work with ethnic hair or women of colour. We have to break that stereotype and must be well-versed in working with all textures of hair. I say texture, because that is not defined by race or ethnicity. You have to give yourself an opportunity to walk into any room or through any door and work with any potential client.
What is your advice to budding stylists?
You can do anything you set your mind to. Education is key; never stop learning. Take classes. Brush up on your techniques and learn new ones when you can. Study legends and always have an open mind to learn more.
This article original appeared on Vogue.com
So why has beauty and fashion started to play such an important role in politics?
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The Deep Meaning of the Colour Purple at the Biden Inauguration
''It’s the colour of royalty, the badge of honour bestowed on heroic soldiers, and a call for unity at a time of political division.'' - T&C
The colour purple is rich with symbolism. It’s the colour of royalty, and as Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw, senior historian of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, points out, “Our democracy came out of a monarchy and colonial situation. We've never had our own royalty so we tend to project that desire.”
So the colour purple has significance in many instances but what did it mean at Biden's Inauguration? Well it was simple but impactful, it symbolised the coming together of two parties - The Democrats and Republicans, or, Red and Blue. If you still remember your colour wheel classes at school you'll know that red and blue mixed together makes purple.
So who'd have thought that the symbolism of peace could be portrayed through the clothes of America's most important women?