Walking into the personal studio of celebrity hairstylist, Nigella Miller, you immediately get a sense of her spiritual vibe. Palo Santo sticks and green plants hang-about, vintage-inspired hair tools surround the space, as the relaxing scent of peppermint fills the air. It’s a slice of heaven amongst the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn that every woman and person of color deserves.
It’s most likely why such superstars as Chloe & Halle, Joey Bada$$, T-Pain and more, flock to her Bushwick shop: whatever Nigella touches turns to magic. I was lucky enough to sit down with Nigella in her hair studio to discuss a host of topics: her personal style inspirations, her journey as an entrepreneur, and even the rise of hair jewelry.
Although hair jewelry has been around for centuries, from cowry shells to Venus and Serena Williams’s iconic beaded plaits, it seems to be resurfacing within mainstream culture yet again. Whether it’s Kelela rocking her clear beads at the end of her dreadlocks on the front row of Calvin Klein’s fashion show, Solange’s braids decked out in multicolored beads in the “Don’t Touch My Hair” video, or Kelsey Lu looking like royalty with her golden pieces dangling elegantly from her roots, stars are finding unique ways to reinvent many of our childhood go-to looks.
Here, Nigella touches on why hair jewelry is so important to our community and our creativity. She also shares her original hair jewelry creations, and what sets them apart from other hair pieces you might see today.
Fashion Fair: When did you start doing hair?
Nigella Miller: I started doing hair at a very young age. Probably around five or six. A lot of women in my family know how to do hair for some reason. I played with a lot of dolls because of that. I felt like I picked up the whole trait from my cousins who did hair and then I really ran with it. I did a lot of track and sculpting and sewing so I didn’t take it seriously until I was a teenager.
FF: Who are some of the celebs that you’ve done hair for?
NM: I’ve done so many stars hair and I’ve worked with so many brands. Straight out of hair school, I started working with Yusef, who was Rihanna’s hairstylist. I worked as his assistant on set. So I got to work with Leona Lewis, Pharrell, etc. We also did a GAP campaign. All of this gave me an idea of what it’s like to work in the industry and I was thinking, “This is amazing!” I got to work with Estelle and a few others through him and I was like, “I gotta figure out how to pursue this kind of lifestyle!” It was intense but awesome. Currently, I’m working with singers Chloe x Halle, rapper Joey Bada$$, Quincy and Sprayground Inc. and plenty more doing music videos, editorial, campaigns etc. It was a goal of mine that I set for myself that I wanted to work with people in the entertainment industry, influencers, and those on the come up. Not just in music, but in the arts in general. Even though I do love music, I didn’t want to narrow myself in or put myself in a box. But I set a goal with myself and now I’m hoping to even branch out to doing hair for films.
FF: Who are your biggest hair influences?
NM: I don’t have any hair influencers. I let my client and my environment drive my creativity.
FF: Can you tell us a little bit about hair jewelry?
NM: Hair jewelry is a form of accessorizing. It adds personality to hair, and can compliment an outfit. it shows uniqueness. It’s kind of funny because I’m still in the process of thinking about what I want to call the line. I’m working on this collection, but I have so many ideas for more collections so that people can truly take their hair game to another level. I’m still perfecting the current collection to be honest. I definitely will have a website where you can go online and purchase and create a custom order so that you can have 14k or 18k gold, as well as the different materials you’d want to use. You’d place the order and once you place it, I’d be able to create whatever you design.
FF: What does hair jewelry mean to you?
NM: Hair jewelry means so much to me. It makes me feel powerful, it allows me to bring my personality out through my hair. “Royal”, is the perfect word to explain how they make me feel.
FF: What do you think hair jewelry means to the black beauty community?
NM: Hair jewelry bring outs the king and queen in all of us. It adds to our culture’s identity and is a testament to our beauty.
FF: What inspired you to get started with making hair jewelry?
NM: I’ve always had an obsession with hair accessories as a kid. I started collecting combs and hair pieces for a few years. Then ultimately just wanted to create my own. I collect combs so over time I realized how much I love jewelry, and when I was little I had a ton of hair accessories. Up until my late twenties, hair accessories were so popular! When I grew up butterfly clips were a thing, along with headbands and scrunchies. We wore cool shit in our hair even though we were just in high school. I grew up with a lot of trends that are back in style now. It’s all coming back but not necessarily evolving. So I wanted to create something that works with all hair textures and make sure that every ethnicity can appreciate it. I wanted to make something that is familiar, but in a different way. Pieces with a little bit more value to them, and things made with real gold. I want older generations to be like “Oh, I remember wearing something like that but it wasn’t real gold!” I also want other cultures to realize that [hair jewelry] was and still is an important part of our culture. Each piece is carefully designed with our culture’s power in mind.
FF: Why do you think it’s important to be an African American hairstylist today?
NM: I wanted black men and women--or anyone who gets their hair done [by me]--to understand our history. Just like my hair jewelry line is also inspired by the African American culture. So as an African American hairstylist, I’m supposed to learn and hold onto old hair traditions to keep our culture going.
FF: Who are some women that inspire you and why?
NM: That’s kind of hard. I don’t really look up to movie stars and actors--I look up to all the women in my family. I come from a family with a lot of women and they have influenced me in so many ways. It’s amazing to have strong women surrounding us each and every day of your lives. That is what makes me who I am today.
FF: What would you tell young women trying to break into your field?
NM: I would tell them to take their time and perfect their craft. Learn as much as you can. Assist, find a mentor, then once you’ve mastered your craft it’s time to create and put yourself out there. It isn’t a rush or a race to who’s better. That way you learn to love your work and appreciate how cool and different you are from everyone else in your field. Hard work pays off.
FF: Do you have a beauty trait that you’ve come to love about yourself?
NM: I’ve come to love that I naturally have light brows. Meaning, my eyebrows are not full and bushy, or long and full. They are subtle. I’ve come to love them each and every day.
FF: “Desert Island scenario”: What’s the one beauty product you just couldn’t live without?
NM: I think a good hydrating lip balm or chapstick.
FF: What do you love most about being a black woman?
NM: I get to express myself and proudly stand up for what I believe in. To me, it’s important to stay confident and be true to who I am.
FF: How do you feel your Guyanese roots have influenced your personal style when it comes to clothing and hair?
NM: I feel like my Guyanese roots have influenced me in so many ways. When it comes to my clothing style, it’s given me that spontaneous vibe to always want to add color and a sense to always accessorize. Guyanese people love jewelry. We’re decked out as soon as we’re born so jewelry definitely is a big part of my style. I love jewelry. It’s just apart of my culture.
FF: As a black woman, what are some obstacles you’ve come against in the beauty industry? How have you overcome them?
NM: Lord! The obstacles I’ve faced have been insane. I feel like there is a need for more of us. The industry is now hiring more black models, and with more brown people accepted in this industry, the more natural hairstylists are needed. Being a woman in the male industry of barbering is also difficult in itself. I’ve been turned down from jobs and labeled as “too talented or overqualified”. I’ve been misunderstood in the industry and not taken seriously. All these obstacles have pushed me to want to exceed more in my career and excel in my passion.
FF: With that said, what do you love most about using a black-owned beauty brand like Fashion Fair?
NM: Fashion Fair found the color palette that best compliments our skin tone. As a black woman that’s the most difficult thing. Fashion Fair allows me to find the perfect shades for my skin tone in lipsticks, eyeshadow, blushes and all.
Get the look!
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