Corinne Bailey Rae on Her Natural Hair

After the Grammys last night, many of you have requested that I get Corinne On the Couch. So, I’m reposting my interview from last fall for those that may have missed it!

Corinne Bailey Rae on Her Natural Hair

In the world of natural hair, there are tons of community and celebrity hair idols floating around. Folks whose hair we admire and appreciate even if ours is in no way similar. We want nothing more than to know their routine, their fave products, or ‘how they got THAT look, in THAT picture’.

Corinne Bailey Rae, and I think you’d agree, is the definition of a Natural Hair Idol. When she and her amazing ringlets hit the scene in 2006, I remember feeling awe struck… to this day, I Google her images for twist-out inspiration. Well, good news divas! The British singer and songwriter is *finally* ‘On the Couch’ and telling all… even how at one point, she wanted to start a natural hair site! It was a challenge tracking her down but it was so worth it… she has a beautiful soul and I’m honored to deliver her story to you! Enjoy!

On her hair story…
I was natural until I was about 13 and then got my hair permed, weirdly. I didn’t really look after my hair before that and didn’t know that it would actually grow ‘curly’ on its own. So yeah, I had a perm, and when I was about 16, I had it relaxed because I had my hair cut really short. It was kinda like Indie… like a white boy’s hair style [Laughter], because I was in this guitar band. It was really, really straight and I’d wear it off to the side. I remember, hoping it wouldn’t grow… you know, so it’d stay sort of as it was when you just had it done (relaxed). That’s very unhealthy… horrible even.

So anyway, the summer before I went to University, a guy stopped me in the street and asked if I’d like to be a hair model for a project he was doing. I said yes, thinking at least I’d get a free relaxer out of it, because at the time, that was a really expensive process. So I did it, but the style was pretty extreme– he dyed the tips of my hair red and cut it really short in the middle. It was this really ghastly hair style… a weird vampire theme. I remembered my friend’s mother was getting married like 2 days after I had it done, and I said to the stylist, ‘okay, I need you to do my hair before this wedding, because I have red tips… I’ve essentially got horns… I need it transformed back, relaxed and dyed back to black’. He claimed there wasn’t enough time! Really? And this was the entire reason I did it (went natural). Just before that wedding, he basically cut my hair down to like an inch or two inches long, cut all the relaxer and hair dye out, and that was it. That was my style. So when I went to University, I had this natural hair style- like a tiny afro, really, really short hair- and I’d always wear jeans and a leather jacket and everyone thought I was a Black Panther.

I quickly got used to it. I liked the fact that you could wash your hair regularly and I loved that my hair was curly. I had never noticed it before because I was always pulling it and combing it straight. Finally, I discovered this really good, moisturizing shampoo. I think they were giving away a shampoo at the time on the front of some magazine… Wella? So I had a whole load of those and I would wash my hair, get right to the scalp, comb it and then twist it a bit with moisturizing cream and just leave it. And it was a revelation to me that my hair had that kind of texture. And because it didn’t have a lot of length, it curled really easily and I thought, I’m just gonna keep it like this. But of course, it just sort of grew out over time. I remember I used to twist the front and the rest would be in this baby afro and then as it got longer and longer, I’d wind it around my fingers to make more of ringletly type curls.

On her current routine…
These days, I’ve embraced the texture even more. What I do now is wash it, put the conditioner in and detangle it with a big paddle brush which takes 40 minutes… it takes a while. I do it from the ends to the roots and then I put it in 4 or so plaits– I plait the front section and then one in the crown and two at the sides. I leave that for a day or a day and a half…. it has to be a day where you’re just hanging out at home. When I take them down, it’s in those loose kinks from the plaits, but it’s still a bit wet, so then my natural curl kind of comes back in a bit and it’s a combination between those kind of kinks and my normal curls. That’s my staple style.

Corinne Bailey Rae on Her Natural Hair
On her hair in promotionals for her latest album…
That was the result of the plaits. You put them where you want them, in the direction you want your hair to go in… I personally like a side part. So yeah, you just make the big plaits and dry your hair in those. A lot of stylists tried drying my hair with a blow dryer, but it makes it straight. It’s really weird, the heat pulls out the curl and flattens it. So generally, I just braid it up and let them dry.

On personal hair care and stylists…
I do my own hair much of the time. But when I’m working, I have different stylists. I have one in London, he’s brilliant actually. He’s this White guy, the same age as me, British… his name is Kenna and he has this studio called KennaLand. I find that he has a real sort of fashion forward focus, and he’s really into Afro hair. He does Emily Sande’s hair, this girl that just came out, she has an awesome shaved, blonde height. He also does Shingai Shoniwa’s hair. He loves Afro hair, he loves the texture and he never tries to change it or work against it. He’ll think really careful how it curls and how to cut it… making sure it’s not too wet, keeping shrinkage in mind. He’s got really great insight. I don’t care for the hairstylists that make you feel like ‘ooh, this is going to be hard work’, especially the stylists in England, a lot of Black stylists in England are really loathsome to Afro hair and make you feel there’s something wrong with you if you’re not relaxed, or they’ll say things like, ‘if you ever straightened it, imagine how long it would be’, but I’m like, ‘I don’t want straight hair’. So yes, Kenna is very good and likes to work with texture and I appreciate that.

The woman that does my hair in New York is from the salon Eva Scrivo. And she does the same… puts it in the plaits and dries it. But for the pieces that don’t go curly enough, she’ll wind them around the iron. But that thing with doing your whole head with an iron and looking like Orphan Annie… I don’t like that.

Corinne Bailey Rae on Her Natural Hair

On her favorite products…
I use an Aveda shampoo called Shampure. I find that it’s nice. When I wash my hair, I tend to only really wash the roots. I spoke to someone that said when you have long hair, remember that the hair on the ends has been washed so many times because it’s 4 years old, and when you wash your hair all you should focus on is the product build up at the scalp and to keep your scalp from feeling itchy or whatever. So when I wash my hair, I just put the shampoo at my roots, and move it around gently… I don’t really mush it, I don’t want to disturb the curls too much. If I’m doing my hair and I just washed it 4 days ago, I won’t wash it with shampoo at all. I’d just put water in it and then just use conditioner. If it feels like it needs cleaning, which is every 8 or 9 days, then I’ll use that shampoo and then I’d wash it out and put conditioner in it. There are two different conditioners that I use, one is by Aveda called Damage Remedy. I hate the name of it, because I don’t like to think my hair is damaged, but it does need the moisture. And there’s also a conditioner that I get from Eva Scrivo called Ruhua . Sometimes, to help it stretch, I mix it with another conditioner because it’s expensive. But it’s really nice because it has honey in it.

So, I just put conditioner on my hair, then detangle with the big paddle brush I got from Aveda. The bristles or spines on the brush are very flexible so it may not get the knots out the first or even the second time…I spend a while detangling. If I’m brushing my hair out, I’ll watch TV, or go and sit in the garden… it takes me 45 minutes, but I’m patient. The key is to not get frustrated and know that all those tangles are going to come out eventually.

I detangle from the ends up and I naturally divide it into sections as I go. Once it’s fully detangled, I’ll put a shower cap on my head and leave it for a couple of hours. When I take it off, my hair is really black and shiny, and it’s still soaking wet even though much of the conditioner is gone. But it’s still easy to comb through. And then I’ll just put it in the plaits. I do this styling process every 9 to 10 days.

On night time maintenance…
I usually just leave it. I try to position it so that it’s up and over the pillow so that I don’t smoosh or flatten the curls. I don’t fuss too much with it and I’m not afraid of having wild hair. This is Rock & Roll… all of my hair idols, people like Yoko Ono, Grace Covington, and Janice Joplin, have this awesome big, messy hair. I love their hair! I’m not looking for it to be perfect, I like the cycle it goes through, from being wet and sort of polished looking and then it dries and gets bigger and bigger.

If there are sections that look a bit messy, I will section it out, put conditioner in it and put another plait there. So I think of it like a work in progress. But on most days, I just wake up and it just looks like it looks. You don’t have to to do it that day. I find that it’s quite low maintenance compared to relaxed hair because you don’t have to do it everyday.

Sometimes, at night, I do apply an oil to my dry ends, but I can’t remember the name of it. It nourishes and adds shine.

But you know what, I have stages where I just put Vaseline in my hair if it’s dry. I put the Vaseline in it and comb it through. I remember after using it for a while, I went to my hairdresser and she said, ‘your hair is in really good condition, what have you been using?’ and I told her! She couldn’t believe it. I like to put essential oil in it and it gives it a really nice smell. It’s cheap and I think that’s a myth… that you have to use really expensive products and you don’t. You can add stuff like Olive Oil, Almond oil or things you just find in the health food store to help expensive products last longer. Experiment is what I say. What works for one person may not work for you. Everyone was raving to me about Moroccan Oil but I found it way too drying.

On length retention…
I haven’t always had such a regimen, but I can say that you have to get your hair cut reasonably often. I get my hair cut about 3 times a year… Kenna does it. Find a hairstylist to trim those ends. I have so many friends that say, ‘oh, my hair won’t grow’. But of course, every one’s hair grows, what happens is the ends break cause they get dry, they split into two and you put tension on the last few inches and they pop off. And people think ‘I want to grow my hair so I’m not going to get it cut’, but it’s the opposite. If you’re going to grow your hair, you need to get it trimmed, even if it’s the tiniest bit, just so you stop the ends from breaking.

Obviously eating well and drinking water helps. It’s also a myth that Afro hair can’t grow long and it can. You just have to give it time, plus it’s growing in a spiral and it’s takes a bit to show length.

I want to grow mine longer!

On her ventures and current projects…
At the moment I’m writing an album. I’m really enjoying it, the process. It won’t be out until next year. Today, I’m just here at home playing my guitar and relaxing.

I was at Fashion Week in November and I’ll probably pop back over in February. At this time, I just feel like I want to engage with creative people and I’d like to do different collaborations with people that aren’t necessarily musicians. It’s fun and inspiring to talk to other creative people. I really like that website Lecoil. I think she has some really good pictures on there and it’s really inspiring as well. The thing I found most depressing about that Chris Rock documentary Good Hair was that lawyer. She had this very beautiful afro and the other black girls were like, ‘I think your hair is cute and all but when you become a lawyer no one is going to take you seriously because of your hair’, and she was like, ‘yeah I know I’m going to have to change it when I become a lawyer’. So, so sad. So the thing I love about Lecoil is that when you click on a picture, you find that this person is the CEO of a company, or a journalist, or the creator of a website! I think it’s really important to show more and more people in influential positions that just let their hair be.

Believe it or not, at one point I wanted to start a natural hair site. Naturally, I came across your site and Lecoil… it was like 2 years ago and I was researching it and I felt that there were already enough sites and that people were doing a good job. I didn’t think I needed to get into that arena, but we’ll see what the future brings! Thanks Nikki!