After learning to braid as a child, self-taught artist and celebrity hairstylist, Vernon François has become one of the most sought-after stylists in the hair industry. With his own hair care line, The VERNON FRANÇOIS® Collection, François creates one of a kind styles for celebrities, including Lupita Nyong’o and Amandla Stenberg.
The UK transplant has won several Cosmopolitan Beauty Awards for his products and was recognized as Artist of the Year at ESSENCE’s 2018 Best in Black Beauty Awards. In 2019, he was named one of Hollywood’s Top Glam Squads (alongside makeup artist Nick Barose) by The Hollywood Reporter.
We had the pleasure of speaking with François about his career, his hair care products and the importance of educating stylists on all hair textures.
On Getting Started
The Tease: What inspired you to become a hairstylist, and how did you get started?
Vernon François: I was inspired to become a hairdresser because styling hair has always been my passion and obsession. Even as a child, I was always planning my next creation or busy working away at it. I’m a self-taught stylist. It fascinates, excites and motivates me –it always has.
It all started when my Mum said I should try doing my hair myself one day because she was tired of me complaining when she did it. From that moment on, I’d be braiding, locing and twisting anything tasseled I could get my hands on—fringing on the living room rug, beaded curtains at my gran’s house, the mop head, you name it. That’s what I’d be doing instead of my homework.
How did you decide to start your own hair care line?
It became clear to me quite quickly, listening to my clients in the salon I worked at in central London, that people with kinky, coily, curly hair wanted something more, different and better. At the time, textured home haircare was limited to stores in out-of-town neighborhoods, or on a small amount of shelf space in high street pharmacies.
Brands were speaking to curly hair consumers on the line of banishing or taming frizz, and kinky coily hair was being under served. I could see there was a gap in the market for helping people to embrace their hair’s true texture with light, non-greasy formulas.
I knew what kind of products I wanted to work with as a hairstylist and what my clients wanted as consumers, so I set about creating exactly that.
What moment in your career are you most proud of?
There are many moments I’m proud of, so it’s hard to pick one. One of the first that springs to mind is seeing a little girl (she must have been about five years old) on Good Morning America. Her mom sent in a clip of her detangling hair. The care and attention she showed was touching. She explained what she was doing as she went along, then said watching me do it was how she’d learnt it.
It’s moments like that, that make me sit up and say, “wow.” Knowing that I’m playing a part in helping people to have a positive relationship with their hair—that’s what I’m proud of.
What’s it like working with celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o, Willow Smith and Amandla Stenberg? Is it as glamorous as it looks?
It’s always a true honor being asked to collaborate with incredibly talented, influential and creative women, the likes of those you’ve just mentioned and others.
Sometimes it’s not quite so glamourous behind the scenes as it is on the red carpet, but it’s certainly always lively! There’s usually music on, we’ll joke around, there’s dancing and sharing ideas, so it’s a team approach and upbeat vibe to the finished result.
What are your favorite tools and products to use when styling hair?
My favorite tools to style hair are my hands. I think it was Lupita (Nyong’o) who said that hair can be like a clay work of art in the right hands. It’s so true, you can warm your palms, create and shape hair into a masterpiece with the right vision, sensitive approach and know-how.
Before styling, I’ll usually prepare all hair types with a spritz all over of my mist nourishing water spray. Someone described it recently as a “unicorn product” because it’s so amazing, which I love! Also, my lightweight styling serum is great for styling and defining all textures, so I mostly use that too.
Challenges Behind the Chair
What challenges have you faced in the industry?
Of course, every industry has challenges. With hair, not all stylists are trained in working with all hair textures, which can be very damaging emotionally and physically for the client sitting in the chair. I know this first-hand from many stories I’ve heard from people all around the world—those in the public eye and salon clients. One of the challenges I’ve faced personally is trying to highlight and start a discussion around it.
Another [challenge] is having people in the room that properly understand textured hair, at every level. For example, in post-production before an image makes it onto the page of a magazine, knowing that an afro smoothed into a perfect silhouette isn’t what our hair would actually do.
There are and always will be challenges, and the answer to most lies in education.
Do you think these challenges are any different because you’re a person of color?
I don’t think that the challenges are any different because I’m a person of color; they apply across the board. All hair stylists need to be trained in styling all hair textures—kinky, coily, curly, wavy, straight—period.
Perhaps I’m more aware of the issue seeing it through the lens of a person of color and having listened to so many people talk about their experiences, which has informed my perspective.
On Shifting Beauty Standards
Have you seen any shifts regarding diversity and representation in beauty and media?
Representation in beauty is always evolving. We’re seeing lots of people embracing their hair’s true texture in the public eye now more so than ever before. Also, social media is a space for some remarkable creativity that influences what we see in the mass media.
I think that people want to see what their hair texture actually does and the versatile ways it can be worn, colored and styled. Authenticity is incredibly important to people, and that’s what we’re seeing more and more.
How has this impacted the work that you do?
My work has always been about embracing hair’s true texture, drawing on and crediting the sources of influence that I draw from—historical, artistic and cultural. I’m inspired by the world around me, forms and textures in nature and architecture especially.
Do you have any advice for up and coming artists in the industry, especially hairstylists of color?
My advice for up and coming artists in the industry is to learn about, love and respect all hair textures. Remember that every person sitting in your chair should be made to feel like the highest version of themselves. Understand and have reverence for the fact that you are in a position of huge responsibility as well as creativity. Hairstylists of color? The same applies.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tease?
There are some exciting collaborations coming up that I’ll be announcing later this year—one involving your TV screens, also new things involving my products—so stay tuned!