Solange’s new album was pretty hotly anticipated. Few have captured the zeitgeist in the exact way that she did with her critically lauded A Seat At The Table. It seemed to cauterize a movement and a mood of a generation at the time. And so being a part of her next moment, particularly in a way that surrounds her hair, is pretty significant.
“You know when I first got the phone call, I cried,” Kendall Dorsey, a New York-based hair stylist who played creative director of hair for the musician’s just-released When I Get Home album tells Out. “I always cry because I’m so humbled to be asked to do a project, but with her, she’s so pro-Black. She really is for her and her community, so to work with her and see how she fights for her vision and for her voice, it’s just been a really amazing experience.”
For Solange Knowles, hair is important — she made a song about it, telling people not to touch it. She spends a lot of time on it (which is not unlike Black women around the world) sometimes wearing it in intricate braids as she did on an Saturday Night Live performance, occasionally an afro, and at other points, done in long, loose curls. And so with her new era of musical and visual releases — officially launched this week — comes with it, a selection of new styles.
“We were really going for airy, soft, long, dark hair,” Dorsey says. “I really wanted to change the subject of her from her other albums to now, so I got a chance to invite myself into her space and listen to who she is now. I wanted to represent that in the hair so it’s soft and billowy, with a little bit of sex. It’s just clean.”
Dorsey, 36, who has also worked with Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Lizzo, has been doing hair since age 16. Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, he started unlicensed, working behind the chair as a stylist. But nine years later, after getting his license, he moved to Los Angeles for a one-year intensive course at SACO Hairdressing Academy. “It was very intense, and the school had this ratio of six students to one teacher, but during the program I got to travel to places like Paris and London and Switzerland,” Dorsey says. “I got this cultural experience and I knew I wanted more than just working behind the chair. I had already done that and been very successful at that at a very young age.”
Wanting more meant moving to D.C. a year later in search of other classes, now with Oribe Haircare. Two years under that brand were enough to get the growing expert signed as an educator for the company, traveling around the world teaching and also working editorial shoots and at fashion week events.
“I realized that I was really more of a craftsman and creator,” Dorsey, who has lived in New York for the past four years, says. “So what that looks like for me is that I make wigs. I like to be tedious about what I’m doing. I like to understand the stitch. I want to know if it fits properly, how much hair can we stuff in here to create this look. I like to create moments, like this. I dreamed of having clients where I could make moments like this and talk about it.” And moments he has made.
To date, Dorsey points to a 50-inch wig he made for Nicki Minaj’s 2017 Met Gala appearance as a crowning achievement. Turned around on a 48-hour notice, it has, in part, branded him as he would go on to put not only Minaj in long wings but also would put Lizzo in the 42-inch wig that provided her only clothing for her album cover. He brought that same energy to Solange as she wears one of his creations in a clip from the album’s visuals that have gone viral.
“That was the moment,” he said of her twirling in a teaser clip wearing a 50-inch wig and a catsuit. “You know, I love me some long hair so any time I can get it in … Solange was like ‘Kendall why do you want this long hair?!’ and I’m just saying, ‘Solange, just do it.’ And she puts it on and loves it and is like ‘Let’s start filming right now!’”
solange twirling w/ a jay in her hand. retweet for good luck. pic.twitter.com/EH7WUvmRvW
— (@NicoKartel) February 28, 2019
Originally called in for a one-day “personal project,” Dorsey has worked on all of Solange’s When I Get Home imagery for the past seven months, he said. To do so, he’s worked with her, pulling in his own inspirations, from his mother who ran an etiquette school that put on fashion shows when he was younger, to the hairstyles of Black women at church and also the ballroom community.
“Whenever I say street style, that’s what I mean,” he says of the ballroom scene. He counts Yusef Williams, Rihanna’s hairstylist and the father of the House of Miyake-Mugler, as one of his closest mentors and inspirations. “That’s a lot of my culture right there. Ballroom has shown me the way of fashion. A lot of people from the scene come from disgruntled backgrounds and the only thing they can do is put that energy on the floor. So when they do hit the floor, it’s passionate, it’s exciting, it’s artistry, it’s a moment. You don’t get that everywhere else.” But they also want their hair done by him with names like Leyna Bloom, Amiyah Scott, Shanice Ebony, Temptress and more all coming to his chair before walking balls.
All of this combined (as well as inspiration from his other mentor Guido Palau) became references for Solange. The 50-inch bundles could be any fem queen getting ready to walk a performance category. The banana peel styles would have been fashionable for anyone growing up in the 90s, and some styles with short, flipped blond hair are directly from church imagery. In album visuals (some of which hasn’t been released yet), sometimes models are all uniform, wearing the exact same style like a design of Senegalese cornrows, but at other points, the hair is similar but all distinct, to speak to how we may be one but still individual. But it’s not a ride that’s over quite yet.
“Well, we’re supposed to be on the tail end of this project, but I actually am about to board a plane to Los Angeles right now for something,” he says. “Solange is always working.”