It’s hard to get a minute with Ursula Stephen. And rightfully so. When she’s not styling the hair of your favorite celebs (Rihanna, Zendaya, Laverne Cox, SZA, Queen Latifah, Kerry Washington, this can go on for pages) she’s on the set of a fabulous editorial shoot making her usual hair magic, or earning those coins with her eponymous Fort Greene salon which was recently highlighted in this season of She’s Gotta Have It (ting and tingle anyone?).
But if you are lucky enough to get that minute, you’ll fall in love. The Brooklyn-born and bred stylist might have a long list of celebrity rosters, but she still has the down-to-earth vibes of your homegirl next door. With some hot competitions and projects in the works, Stephen is working towards becoming a household name. ESSENCE got a moment to catch up with her coming off of a full week of gigs with Sanaa Lathan, Veronica Webb, Bebe Rexha and other clients, to talk what’s in her beauty bag, her current go-to drugstore brands, and the hair things you want to know for festival season.
Last year you gave a hair tip for ladies to use heat protectant for summer hair. What’s your advice for this year’s ESSENCE Festival, especially if it threatens to rain?
It’s pretty much the same thing. I think if it’s going to be raining, you definitely want to pull out more accessories, pack some scarves. I feel like everyone is going to be braiding their hair because braids came back again in a real big way.
You’ve worked with so many people. What’s one thing that’s consistent with people when it comes to their hair that drives you bananas?
Not wearing styles or looks that make sense to their [hair] type or texture. I guess a lot of girls, because the trend is this super frizzy hair, they’re just opting to do it any way and it’s not attractive. You know you have super frizzy hair and you added this lace front onto it and it’s not believable. I feel like we need to get that [hair] secrecy back a little. It shouldn’t be so in my face that it’s weave.
So when it comes to hair, what’s the most dangerous thing that a Black woman can do?
Relax her hair herself. When you relax your own hair you’re always going to end up over processing your hair. Because you just can’t see. You can’t see the back, you can’t do ends. When you do it, you really should only touch the new growth.
What festival styles are you loving right now?
I’m like bring on more accessories. I’m obsessed. So I just think that it’s amazing that now we see accessories on the red carpet and there’s so many different, amazing fun stuff that’s cool for festival season, and it’s great for everybody. Even if you’re wearing braids or you have straight hair just throw it up into a top knot and find a little jewel that you can tack onto it. Even if you have a short Afro you can still do that.
What’s in your beauty bag right now?
Are there any hair products that you think are good for beauty?
Any product or any shampoo or conditioner that has natural things in it like olive oil, peppermint, they’ll be great on your skin as well. It’s a matter of using more products that are really natural. If you’re going to use something that has a lot of perfume in it, a lot of fragrance, that’s clearly not going to be good for your skin.
Spill the tea on your favorite celebrity clients. Don’t tell us that you can’t say!
I love all my clients I work with. My favorite thing is the actual gig that I’m getting, not the person. So I really love to do campaigns and red carpets. It doesn’t matter who it is, I love those. I love that feeling of transforming somebody.
What hair tools or products do you never leave the house with?
For my clients, I’m never leaving home without a flat iron. I can make so many things happen with a flat iron versus a curling iron. But for me, I’m really minimal. I just need a comb and maybe like some Epsom salt. But don’t get it twisted I’m still a beauty girl.
As their beauty is concerned what can women do more of?
A lot more self care. I think a lot of girls are zipping through getting their weave done. You know, not treating their own hair nicely or hanging out all night wearing heels, but not using self care. I faithfully get a pedicure and I faithfully get a foot massage. If I can do it every week, I do.
When Beyoncé’s hair got caught in that fan and she continued to sing, what was your feeling?
The show must go on honey. What was she supposed to do? Stop the show and breakdown because her hair got caught? That’s a small problem in Beyoncé’s performance world.