Rihanna has made it clear that she is not interested in being the pretty pop star, instead she has opted for an ever-changing persona that is part bad girl, part vamp, a dash of vulnerability wrapped up in a whole lot of sex appeal. Topping off her evolving look is that mane that can never seem to stay the same. The man in charge of Rihanna’s tresses – the real and the purchased – is a Hialeah native who goes by one name, Yusef, who has had his hands in the hair of celebrities like Kerry Washington, Naomi Campbell and even Oprah. Rihanna’s stylist-in-chief chats with us before this Saturday’s Diamonds Tour show, which, so far seems to be a go in spite of her recent cancellation in Houston.
Who was your first celebrity client?
Tyra Banks. I worked with Lisa Mitchell as her assistant and she had all the top models. Tyra had a photo shoot and she needed Lisa but she couldn’t do it so she sent me. I went and did a shoot with Tyra and she ended up keeping me around. I did the first season of Top Model.
So how many looks does Rihanna have for her Diamonds Tour?
The hair, we tease it a little bit for the rock star segment for the rest it’s tame. She has it shaved on one side and a long flowing weave on the other side. But we won’t do major hair changes.
How did you get a gig doing hair for Rihanna?
A friend of mine, Myla Morales, was her makeup artist. So she would tell Rihanna to use Yusef. Then I met Rihanna at a charity event. And she was like, “I know your name, do you do hair?” She thought I was going to be a Middle Eastern white guy, but I’m a big black guy. Maybe two weeks later I was in Paris with her for Fashion Week and we just got along well and work was good and she was like, “Hey, I need you for this or that.” That was like four years ago.
What’s your favorite look for Rihanna?
I don’t know if I have a favorite, we try so much. The way her hair is now is the one I like most. Now she’s shaved on one side and super long and luxurious weave on the other side.
Were you in charge of the red hair?
Ursula Stevens was in charge of that phase, then I got into the more umber with the dark roots, calmed it down a bit. Every album calls for something different. We wanted it to be more easy breezy natural, accessible. It’s still work. It’s just something that doesn’t take so much maintenance.
Does she give a lot of input?
Most of the time it’s like “Show me what you got!” She doesn’t care about hair. She’s like “It will grow back.” The fun part about her is the challenge of what to do. She can carry any hairstyle; she’s a pretty girl.
Do you think her hair is an integral part of her image?
I think her hair plays a big role into the character of Rihanna. It gave her the separation she needed from other artists. She has so many looks and she evolves and takes chances and the attitude, the person she is, she is a bad ass.
What does she do to keep her hair healthy?
First step is to keep me around. We don’t let weaves sit in. We don’t let extensions stay in. Her hair is strong, but we do a lot of deep conditioning treatments like this one called Repair by Paul Labrecque. We do a lot of lemongrass treatments. I don’t care if we have no time. We know at the end of the day you want to walk away from this business with lots of money in your hair.
What is it like behind the scenes at the Diamonds Tour?
Believe it or not it is a calm atmosphere. It is a drama-free zone. We can’t wait to get to the venue to go on stage and move on. We come in, we work with her for like and hour and a half so it’s never crazy. Then we sit back stage and watch Basketball Wives. That’s our routine. I’ve brought friends backstage and they are, like, bored. It’s like a little family, our little crew. No sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Has Rihanna ever gone full on diva on you?
No way! I’ve never met that girl. I’ve never had anyone go diva on me and I’ve worked with Naomi Campbell and Kerry Washington, Oprah. But I’ve been blessed to always have good people in my chair. It’s all about the tone you set. First impressions are important.
Do you do her hair for awards shows and things where she has to glam it up?
I’ve done her for all her red carpet stuff. All the Battle Ship events, MTV, Kid’s Choice Awards.
How she handle her fame?
I think she doesn’t let it take over her life. She keeps herself surrounded with good friends. Family always comes with us on the road. The fame is happening all around her and she doesn’t notice it. It’s always like it doesn’t let it consume her.
Do you feel protective of her?
Of course, she’s my friend. I feel that way with all my clients. We are the biggest confidantes that people have. I think were protective of each other. We have each other’s backs.
Do you ever give her love advice?
No, I stay out of that. We are all trying to figure that out on our own without giving any advice.