Over the past two decades, Ursula Stephen has built a successful career as a freelance stylist catering to celebrities. Amid working behind the scenes on magazine shoots, music videos and for red carpet appearances for celebrities like Rihanna, Rita Ora, Kerry Washington and Mary J. Blige, Stephen also launched a thriving, namesake salon in Brooklyn, New York.
In an exclusive interview with SALON TODAY, Stephen gave us a behind-the-curtain look at her unique career. Here’s a few gems from the interview….
On getting into freelance beauty…
“I got into hairstyling overall at a very young age. My high school was a beauty school. I started in ninth grade and never looked back. I worked after school and on the weekends at different salons. I graduated and I tried the whole Brooklyn College thing, but it didn’t work for me. I was simultaneously working at the salon still, so I was getting different opportunities. One of these opportunities which I call a ‘fork in the road’ was to go on tour with Kandi. She was an artist, she was in a group and she was working on her solo career and one of her managers asked if I’d like to go on tour. At this point I was mid-semester in college, and I was so happy for that option. If I hadn’t taken that chance, I wouldn’t be here now.”
On developing both sides of her career….
“I was probably with my agent less than a month when I got with the opportunity to work with Rihanna and she and I hit it off. I juggled the salon and working with her, and after a while she outweighed everything. I became her hairstylist and worked hard with her for eight or nine years, I did everything with her from music videos to album packages to editorials to whatever else she was doing while becoming this crazy mogul. After traveling so much and working so hard, I felt I needed more, even though I had reached all my goals. I wanted to create something I didn’t have and that’s when I decided to open my own salon.”
On the revolutionary decision to give Rihanna a new look….
“I was the one who cut her hair into a bob. She was still wearing the long brown hair and we were still having fun with that. As she started to develop and was working on new projects, she said one day, ‘I want you to give me my new look.’ I was very excited—everybody made a big deal about it, but I didn’t look at it like that, because I was trained in the salon. I was used to changing people’s look and when she said it, I was like, ‘OK, that’s not a big deal, let’s do it.’ When we did it, I couldn’t believe the impact it made not just on the world, but the beauty industry as well.”
On her favorite kind of work…
“I think my favorite kind of job is being able to do what the hell I want—when you’re a stylist and a client really allows you to work and create and play without a roadblock. That’s heaven to me. I work off feeling and energy, so if I feel something for you—like you should have a bang or a side part—then you might want to listen to me and let me create it, because it’s going to be amazing. Other than that, I really like to do a red carpet. I like the quickness, the short time frame. People don’t realize we only have two hours to send someone down the runway and the whole world will be watching. I love the rush of that—I can see my work quickly, and then it goes away. It’s great for my creative energy.”
On her favorite memory….
“In 2007, right after cutting Rihanna’s bob, we shot a magazine cover in Barbados and I was literally in the water with her. I was in the Caribbean doing what I love in cut off shorts and a T-shirt and I remember thinking ‘I love my life!’”
On why it’s hard for her to watch her work walk the red carpet…
“I watch it with a cringe. I want to see it, but I don’t want to see it yet. What most people don’t realize is you usually don’t go with the client to the red carpet. So, you worry whether she made it and a piece of hair isn’t sticking up, or there isn’t lipstick on her teeth. I can’t look (at the images) right away, I usually wait for the next morning.”
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