Ursula Stephen is the owner of Brooklyn-based The Salon by Ursula Stephen and a Unilever Celebrity Stylist with a client roster that includes the likes of Rihanna, Bebe Rexha, Justine Skye, Zendaya and Sza – just to name a few. The Mane Master talked to us about how she got her start in the industry, the importance of learning how to style all different types of textured hair and a time she almost blew it with Rihanna.
Whether you’re a stylist looking for advice from Ursula whose salon chair is constantly filled with A-list celebs or you’re simply in need of some serious #manespiration, keep reading for a glimpse inside Ursula Stephen’s unparalleled career in the hair industry.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I got into the industry through high school! My high school was a vocational school, and I studied cosmetology, graduating with my license and diploma all in the same year. I worked after school and on the weekends at a salon and my name began to travel. The rest is history.
What was one of your biggest career challenges and how did you overcome it?
One of my biggest career challenges was taking the leap from behind the chair to freelancing full-time. This was difficult because the pace was different, the cash flow was different. The stakes were higher, but it ended up being so worth it.
What would you tell your 21-year-old self?
I would tell my 21-year-old self, “guuuuuurl you are gonna do Mary J. Blige one day!” [LOL] But in all seriousness, I would say, “you are going to be alright and you have made the right decisions.” I made a lot of risky decisions early in my career. Things could have gone left, but I was too passionate, so I left school and took the chance and it all worked out.
What is your beauty philosophy?
Believe that beauty is a lifestyle! I believe that although we love the same things, beauty is and should always be unique and individual to you, and that’s how personal style is created.
What is the most underrated hair product or hack?
One of the most underrated hair hacks has to be “grease and water” haha! This is what we used as teenagers! We didn’t have money for high-end products, so we put hair grease on wet hair and on a hair brush and brushed our hair up into the slickest ponytails ever. This still works in a pinch!
Which haircare brands do you think do the best job of creating products for all textures?
The brands that do the best job at creating products for textured hair are the ones that see hair as TEXTURE and not a RACE. Brands that understand what certain ingredients do is important as well. Yes, there are textures that are specific to certain races, but that’s not always the case, so let’s concentrate on great ingredients that help all textures because no matter what race, most of us suffer from dry brittle and damaged hair at some point in our lives. I like that Suave provides affordable, salon quality products at home for both men, women and kids.
What is one major misconception about textured hair?
A major misconception about textured hair… well, that depends on the lens. For the girl that wants to go natural, she will think life will be so much easier, but it’s not! Natural hair is a lot of work and needs the same amount of love and care as any other texture or style – possibly more.
What should stylists know from the beginning about styling all different types/textures of hair?
I feel that it’s very important for stylists to learn how to do all hair textures. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should know how to handle yourself when faced with different textures. It’s important for the culture and for the growth of your career. It is your duty as a stylist to take classes in areas where you are weak. If your cosmetology school is not teaching what you need, then you need to find classes that do. Or assist and shadow other stylists that do this well. Your career is your responsibility, not the beauty school’s.
Tell us about one time you almost blew it.
I almost blew it when Rihanna was asked to perform last minute with Eminem at the VMAs. We were in the middle of shooting ‘Battleship’ in Hawaii and her character wore short dark hair but Rihanna the artist was currently a red head, so we had to switch gears. I had to put my trust in a wig maker in L.A. to source and color a wig for me. Let’s just say the red was not right and Rihanna wasn’t feeling it and neither was I! I almost gave up. I truly felt defeated, but with only an hour before her performance, I had no time to waste. I scrambled though every color in my kit and colored the hair backstage and in the smallest sink ever! Got it where it needed to be, and the night was a success .
What advice would you give to stylists looking to follow in your footsteps? About starting a salon? About building a celebrity clientele?
If you are a stylist looking to follow in my footsteps… don’t! Instead, pull pages from my book as well other successful stylists in the industry and add it yours. Make things your own! Stay true to who you are and your talents. Be open and say YES even when you are not sure how you will get it done!