Even if you are unfamiliar with celebrity hairstylist Johnny Wright, you are certainly familiar with his most famous client, Michelle Obama. Wright began exclusively styling the First Lady’s hair right after President Barack Obama took office and the rest is history! We recently chatted with the SoftSheen-Carson spokesperson to find out how he got his start, his thoughts on the natural hair phenomenon and who he thinks has the best hair, besides FLOTUS of course. Keep reading to see what he had to share!
StyleBlazer: We hear you’ve been styling hair since you were a teenager! What made you initially want to enter the hair industry?
Johnny Wright: My grandmother. My grandmother started doing hair when she was 19 years old and she was doing hair until she was 91 years old and she passed at 93 so I was pulled under her wing. She was doing hair at the house and had salons. She had a client that was coming to her before my mother was born so she’s had clients for over 70 years. She was taught under Madam C. J. Walker. She inspired what I’m doing today and the majority of the reason why I love the industry so much is because of my grandmother, Minnie Brown. I started out in Chicago when I was 12 years old and then moved to LA in 2007.
SB: Were you already doing Michelle Obama’s hair in Chicago or did you meet her after?
JW: She had a hairstylist she was going to since she was 17 and his name is Ronnie Flowers so he was the one who was her hairstylist but I was supposed to do her several times throughout the year for different reasons. Initially I did her hair for an Essence magazine photo shoot, this was during the campaign right when they first announced they were running. Two months later, I did it for O magazine and you would see articles inside about her because of her being a senator’s wife, and at that time I had moved to Los Angeles. We continued the relationship because she was in Los Angeles pretty often with the campaign. When she was in town, she called me so she could be camera ready. It all really changed for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. It was in Denver but I was in Los Angeles and I don’t think Ronnie was available for the whole week so they called and asked me to be with her in Denver. The night of her speech was the first time I did her hair from start to finish. Prior to that, I would only keep her camera ready, her hair was always shampooed, it was always dried, and it already had a cut but I was just keeping her camera ready and keeping her fresh for the camera. But that night I did her hair from start to finish, and then the next morning, everybody was talking about her hair.
SB: That is such a cool story! And that was the night of the Democratic National Convention?
JW: Yes, of course her speech was powerful, I don’t want to take away from that at all but at the same time, people did notice a shift in her hair. I called it a different stroke of the brush.
SB: That’s an amazing and inspiring story. So since then you have been her main stylist?
JW: I didn’t actually become her main stylist until President Obama took office. Not too far after they won the election, I got a call from her staff that I should come down to her for a Vogue shoot in D.C. I was in L.A. at the time so I ended up doing it and at that shoot, that’s when she asked me would I be willing to work with her full time and that was January 2009.
SB: Nice! So Michelle Obama’s hair makes headlines every year. In 2013, it was all about the bangs. What has been her favorite hairstyle so far?
JW: I can’t answer that question, that’s personal.
SB: OK! Moving on, 2013 was all about the bangs, people across America were taking her picture to their hairstylists to recreate the look.
JW: Yeah I know. It was crazy.
SB: It was crazy, I really think the bangs was the hairstyle heard around the world.
JW: I always tell people it was the bang heard ’round the world.
SB: Exactly! It literally was, I love that. So she retired the bangs, what can we expect from her for 2014?
JW: I don’t know. (Laughs) I never ask and I never answer any of those questions because those are all personal to the First Lady. All of those type of things would have to be a surprise. I have no idea, we don’t plan things out, that’s just not the process. Even the bangs, it was like a thing that we just did and we didn’t know there was going to be such an impact.
SB: Right now I feel like natural hair has become the premiere thing as far as hair is concerned. What do you think of the natural hair movement? Is it here to stay or is it a fad?
JW: I think it’s amazing, and I hope it’s here to stay. I mean, you never know if it’s just a fad. The thing about it is new products are being developed every year and people like to try things out with their hair and if there’s an amazing product that straightens the hair and it’s not damaging and has no chemicals, then that may become a trend too. What I think about natural hair, I think it’s awesome. I mean the thing that Curly Nikki is doing and the blog Rock Yo Rizos is great. It’s something people are really starting to embrace and what I think is so great about it is you’re able to have that versatility. You can wear your hair straight sometimes, you can wear your hair curly sometimes but you can only get the curly aspect if your hair is natural. I think that’s what’s so good about it, I think products sell more, companies developing products that are for natural hair…like with me, I’ve been working with SoftSheen-Carson for the past 11 years, we have a new product line called Au Naturale which is amazing for those women who are trying to adapt and understand their natural hair texture and highly textured hair and we have products that are helping them keep their hair moisturized, because people don’t understand that natural hair can be very dry if it isn’t conditioned and treated properly with the right products. So that’s what Au Naturale is all about.
It’s all about versatility and women use their hair as an accessory and to be able to change it up just as much as they change their jewelry or their shoes. I think that’s what women with natural hair are also doing. The thing about it is we really have to dig deep and really try to figure out what is the issue that we have with our natural hair, you know, a lot of this, stems from way back in the day when we were told that texture is not proper, it’s not professional, you need to look this way or try straight hair, it’s unacceptable. So I think women have just started to embrace their hair texture and embrace who they really are as a part of their movement.
SB: I feel like natural hair products are something women are much more interested in as of lately. Can you share tips on using the right hair care products?
JW: There are products out there that are made, like Au Naturale, for natural hair care. I think that’s the best option because it’s going to keep the natural texture in mind. I think as long as the product is moisturizing and conditioning your highly textured hair, that’s what’s most important. A lot of times those natural hair care products will cater to ingredients that will keep that curl moisturized. You want to lengthen the curls that are there but still maintain the shape, or help define the curls and natural hair care products are going to do that. They’re the best choice for natural hair care.
SB: What about styling tools? What are the do’s and don’ts?
JW: The only tool that I use is Corioliss. It’s a product that I’ve been using for the past five years now and the reason I love this tool so much is because the plates are made of titanium and the titanium plates are much gentler on the hair. First, it’s really because of the temperature control you have with this iron. Most flat irons or curling irons can either be turned on or off. When you do straighten your hair, you don’t want to have the temperature on the highest level offered. You want to bring it down a little bit, just enough to get it straight but not to the point where it’s damaging your hair. What people don’t understand is heat does the same thing to your hair that chemicals do to your hair but it’s over time. So if you constantly keep styling your hair and if you keep using the highest temperature that that iron offers, you are going to be straightening the hair out and you’ll lose your curl pattern.
SB: What’s the benchmark?
JW: I think you should start as low as possible, and see if you’re able to get your hair straight with that. If not, gradually go up and see if you can get your hair straight. You should never have to get to 450 degrees which is too high.
SB: That makes sense. So we’re in a new year and spring will be here before we know it! What do you predict will be the big hair trends for 2014?
JW: One thing I am noticing is that a lot of women are going darker for spring this year. Normally they tend to go lighter, but they’re going darker, think warm reds, and deeper blondes so that’s one of the trends and people don’t want their hair perfectly coifed, they want approachable hair. That is definitely in now, not too structured, not too perfectly combed, just a little tousled, just kind of like you did it yourself. Even with natural hair texture, wearing it big and curly, afros are definitely coming back in a different way. You see a lot of highly textured hair and a lot of curly hair, highly textured hair that’s styled and it really makes that impression, it’s getting a lot of attention. You’re starting to see it in the workplace now so people aren’t seeing it as unprofessional now.
SB: I think that people love the whole big, curly afro look. Let’s say your hair isn’t long enough to get the fro so you have to resort to adding a piece or a wig. Do you approve?
JW: Absolutely. I love extensions and adding things to your hair to change up your hairstyle. Another thing you can do are straw sets. They give you that texture, they make your hair thicker and they last a long time. It takes a while to actually do one so once it’s done you’re going to be happy and it’s going to last a long time. I do think if it’s a wig, it’s all fun. What’s wrong with sew-ins and some highly textured hair? You could rock an afro for a couple of weeks and then you can take it out and you’re back to yourself. There is nothing wrong with that.
SB: Besides Michelle, if you had to pick one person who has the best hair who would you choose?
JW: I can’t say best hair because that’s wrong. Everyone’s hair is good.
SB: OK, best hairstyle?
JW: There’s nobody who’s my favorite right now honestly.
SB: Best hair color or best hair cut?
JW: I’m loving Tamron Hall from the “Today” show, I love those short hair cuts. I also love anything that Rihanna does. She’s a trendsetter with anything she does.
SB: Is there anything you have coming up for 2014 that we should be on the look out for?
JW: Always be on the look out for stuff from me, I always have my hands and feet into something. There will be a lot of surprises coming from me in 2014.