Elle Varner’s got the kind of scratchy, sultry voice that stays with you. The 22-year-old’s debut song, the J. Cole-assisted track “I Only Wanna Give It to You,” showed off her soulful vocal chops and she held her own last year among veteran singers including Jill Scott and Erykah Badu during BET’s 2nd Annual Black Girl’s Rock last year. Along with the powerful voice, she’s burst on the scene with a vintage-meets-modern style with a girly twist that’s especially marked by a gorgeous halo of hair.
The hands that help create her enviable coif belong to hair and makeup artist Dayron Haylock. Hailing from Chicago and currently based in New York, Haylock has employed his style expertise while working with stars like Angela Bassett, Vivica A. Fox, Lil' Kim and Sex and the City’s Kim Catrell. We caught up with him to get the rundown on how he styles Varner’s curls to perfection.
BET: New artists are sometimes given safe, cookie-cutter looks. Whose decision was it for Elle to debut with her naturally curly hair?
I met her at a showcase for some other artists and the next time we met we started working together when she was still being developed. There’s a very interesting space that happens when you’re putting together a look for a new artist. A lot of times we think it’s safe to go with current “traditional soft-swept wavy hair, but Elle naturally has that texture and that beautiful curl pattern and volume. It was kind of like ‘let’s try her natural hair and make it really beautiful.’ That’s when the compliments started pouring in and people really started to take notice. While it was kind of a risk to try it, it worked in our favor. People were really receptive to that look — it really speaks to the type of artist she is and her personality.
BET: Take us through your step-by-step process of doing her hair.
We wash it and condition it properly — conditioner is one of the key elements to getting the hair to really swell up and be bouncy and healthy and shiny. I dry the hair with a diffuser. I don’t usually put any product in it until it’s fully dry. That’s also one of the tricks to keeping it from getting really heavy and weighed down. Once I dry it out and make sure the curl is really locked in, that’s when I start to work in a shine product, a polishing pomade really helps rejuvenate that natural shine it already has. And that’s really it! I use a light holding spray to give it a hold with a fluffy bounce.
BET: Is her hair always 'wash and wear' or do you ever use pieces or other techniques to enhance it?
Oh definitely, I often use tools to initiate or recreate the curl pattern. It depends on the occasion. If it’s dressier, I’m going to use rods because I want the pattern to be more uniform. They make the curls more polished and elegant. For casual styles that are fun and more youthful, it’s more about the diffuser and working the product in with my fingers and really playing with the edges.
I rarely use hair pieces, but we've used them before. I feel like women who embrace their natural hair are sometimes afraid of using other methods to help them along the way to get the look they’re trying to achieve, and that’s OK. There’s preparation that goes into making sure Elle’s hair looks beautiful like that on a daily basis. A woman who goes for a little bit more always gets a little bit more.
BET: Of course every natural hair texture is unique. How can a woman achieve the look if they don’t have Elle’s spiral curl pattern?
The smallest curling iron can also help create the look. Start at the parameter and go around the head creating little spirals, which always helped redefine the curl texture without taking away from that natural look that the hair has. Make sure the iron isn’t too hot — never turn it up all the way.
BET: What about tips for achieving Elle's look for naturalistas who are trying to steer away from heat?
Try small rods while the hair is wet. This is a very simple and effective way to create a natural-looking curl pattern in the hair. Apply small rods at night after you wash your hair. Tie it down with a net and let it air-dry. In the morning brush it out, pick it out or wear it tight. It’s a very nice way to work with that natural hair that’s on the more tightly coiled side and can still be very healthy for the hair and help it stay very strong and gorgeous.
BET: What are your tips for keeping curls looking fresh without having to re-wash or curl every day?
At night grab medium-sized portions of the hair, wrap them around your finger and pin them down with bobby pins to help the hair stay springy without you having to wet it the next day. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look exactly the same as the day before, play with it for a little variety. I like to see women with natural hair taking more risks.
BET: Speaking of risks, are you planning on taking any with Elle’s hair anytime soon with a new color or cut?
She definitely wants her hair to get bigger! She’s got this '80s baby vibe to her but it’s also regal and it comes across very confident and strong and it coincides with her range and her voice. I like the fact that Elle is fresh, she has a powerful meaning and she has a story — her hair definitely reflects that.
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(Photo: Courtesy Facebook/RCA Records)