Beauty

The spirituality of natural hair with Charlotte Mensah

Exploring Afro futurist styling and traditional Ghanaian techniques with London's queen of hair.

Quietly weaving magic in her Portobello Road salon, Charlotte Mensah has been a best kept secret in fashion for years. Inspired by her dual Ghanaian and British heritage, the pioneering hair stylist creates experimental works of hair art, pushing the boundaries of every hair texture she can get her hands on.

Known for her work with the likes of Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, Charlotte has been at the forefront of the conversation around natural hair long before the mainstream took notice.

Here, in an exclusive video and editorial (with visuals in collaboration with NYC artist Kendario La’Pierre) – she creates two unique hair looks for HUNGER.

Drawing on afro futurism, the styles are a study in contrasts. The first is a dramatic and sculptural take on the pony tail: “It’s symbolic and powerful, and designed to be regal” she says.

The second look is a playful experiment with texture using the West African technique of threading, with geometric patterns.

“I threaded the hair around the crown area, all the way down to the perimeter of the hair, and then left the natural hair loose.”

Threading is a technique that Charlotte first encountered growing up in Ghana in the 1970s and that she has continued to incorporate in her work.

“I remember my aunties, grandma and friends of the family would have it done for special occasions. It’s a unique way of braiding where you twist cotton thread around the hair, you can play with colour and also create interesting geometric shapes in the partings. It’s a very old traditional method that somehow got lost, but now is coming back. It’s a part of our history and it’s important to keep it alive for the next generation. It’s also a great way to protect your hair from heat damage.”

For Charlotte, hair goes much deeper than simply being a fashion statement – it’s something spiritual that carries our energy.

“The moment you meet someone as a hair stylist, you don’t even know them, you’re having an encounter with them, you’re touching them. You can feel when they’re not happy. You’re touching someone’s crown which is very personal, it’s a sacred part of their being. People open up to you, they’re vulnerable when they’re sat in your chair.”

This philosophy shapes her Portobello Road salon, the Hair Lounge, a sanctuary for the local community that brings together different generations and cultures.

“It’s a very special place. There’s a spiritual vibe of people connecting with each other – whether it’s a grandma, or a teenager, people want to talk when they’re here and to open up. Sometimes people will stay for hours and hours and they won’t want to leave. Everyone is always sharing with each other”.

When it comes to her creativity, empowering people to feel comfortable in their own skin is what continues to fuel her work. “I just want them to feel proud of who they are, to be who they are”.

Follow Charlotte Mensah on Instagram

 

10 May 2019