Original hair idol and music legend Amel Larrieux is On the Couch with CurlyNikki. And just for the record, this one's for me, not for y'all! I've been fawning over her hair for years, and it was amazing to finally chat about her iconic curls and waves. Enjoy!
Amel & CurlyNikki Curl Up
CurlyNikki: How long have you been natural?
Amel Larrieux: I've been natural since I was 17. When I was a teenager, I used to get my hair relaxed, and when I turned 16, I stopped and had my hair twisted, and it locked up. I had locks for two years. I cut them off when I was 19, and my hair has been completely natural ever since.
CN: Why did you stop getting relaxers?
AL: I got really involved in African history and my roots, and I was very Afrocentric at the time. I wore big head wraps and I was studying a little bit about Rastafari and hanging out in Harlem on 125th street — back when it was very much a time when people were talking about our culture — lots of Black owned book stores. It influenced me a lot and I realized that relaxers were not for me.
Also, my mother has always been natural, so I think that I kind of went through the prerequisite “straightening my hair to fit in with other people.” But by the time I was 17, I was finding my individuality, and a part of that was being natural.
CN: How would you describe your hair?
AL: I have two very distinct grains. The top part of my hair is a thicker, coarser grain with corkscrew curls and the bottom part is almost completely straight. You can't treat both parts the same. I've only encountered one or two stylists that know what to do with it, which is why I usually do it myself.
CN: I came across an old interview where you discussed your hair routine and products. It's several years old and I wonder how your regimen differs from that time? I remember some old school products and lots of braid-outs.
"I grew up on Chaka Khan and Diana Ross — I like big hair. I like frizzy hair. I think it's beautiful and it looks like a cloud!"
AL: It's basically the same, except that I've been using organic products for the last six years. I don't use any of the old school stuff anymore because unfortunately, they don't have the best ingredients. Plus, there are so many more organic things available now than there were before. Everything from your hair, your skin, leads back into your blood and your body. Everything that I put on me now is basically organic.
I still wash my hair every week unless I'm really busy. I have very curly corkscrew hair, and sometimes I'll let it air dry naturally. I usually braid it. Every night I braid my hair, because if I don't, it'll lock up! The curls are so curly that they lock together very quickly. My secret is moisturizing it before I braid it. It's also about the products that I use.
I deep condition every time I wash my hair for around 10 to 15 minutes. After applying the conditioner, I'll put on plastic wrap or a plastic cap and sit in the sun or just keep it on as long as possible. My favorite deep conditioners right now are Kerastase Oleo Relax, Bumble and Bumble Creme de Coco Tropical Rich Mask and the PhytoSpecific Intense Nutrition Mask. I also like the PhytoSpecific Kukui Oil Shampoo.
I try to get my hair trimmed twice a month. I don't wear my hair long anymore. I just prefer to have it shorter. I pretty much keep it at shoulder length now. I may wear it long again one day, but for now, I really like it at my shoulders because it's really modern, easy and fun!
I have a person who knows how to trim curly hair. She actually can trim my hair without giving me split ends. She makes my hair look better every time she trims it. I appreciate this because many stylists can make matters worse.
CN: You mentioned Phyto, Kerastase and Bumble and Bumble, what other products are you digging?
AL: Using the best combination of products is an ever-changing thing. I won't stick with the same thing for more than four months because my hair kind of becomes immune to it, so I switch around.
I love the PhytoSpecific brand. It's one of my favorites and I always come back to it. I also like Shea Moisture, which I know is Black owned and that makes me very happy. I love the Organic Coconut and Hibiscus Curl and Style Milk. I love it so much that I don't even know what to do. It works so well. It repairs any and all problems. I use it at night before I braid my hair.
I am a person that likes my hair frizzy and wavy, not a person that's concerned about it looking silky and curly. I grew up on Chaka Khan and Diana Ross — I like big hair. I like frizzy hair. I think it's beautiful and it looks like a cloud! It took me many years to embrace that part of my hair. I'm not into gelled looking hair, and these products don't make my hair look gelled or defined. They make them soft and wavy, like a beautiful cloud [laughter].
CN: Can you tell me more about your night time braiding routine? Do you wet your hair before applying the Organic Coconut and Hibiscus Curl and Style Milk?
AL: I apply it to my dry hair. I've learned that water is my hair's enemy. That is one of the reasons why I stopped wearing my hair naturally curly all the time. You know, like when you get out of the shower and let it air dry? I had to wet it every day and it really dried my hair out. The braiding works better for me.
CN: What would you tell a woman who is contemplating going natural?
AL: Well, it's such a personal thing. As Black people, we have so much weight, so much luggage, baggage that comes with it all — all the stuff we've been through for decades, how we're not right, in terms of our beauty and our attributes. Every commercial is like, “get rid of frizz, relax your hair,” and I know it's for white people as well, but still.
I know how extremely intense it can be for someone to make the change and then feel the reactions from people. When I cut my locks off and had hair that was one inch long, the kind of reactions I got from people I knew and didn't know — it was astonishing. It was astonishing that my hair mattered that much. That it made such a difference that they had to give me their opinion — that they were so offended or whatever.
I just really believe that people have to do what's right for them in their own time. It's definitely more time consuming. We all have different hair, and some might find that braiding their hair is not the thing, that they have to do knots at night, or pin curls at night. Someone else might let it be completely free and natural. I just really want women of color to feel good about themselves without having to compromise or without having to fit into someone else's standard of beauty. And sometimes it's a really long road. Everything in our society has been anti-black anything for many years, so it's totally understandable.
CN: What projects are your working on?
AL: I'm mixing my new album that will be out early next year. It's going to be called “Ice Cream Everyday,” and I do spot dates all the time. I'm not doing a full-length tour right now, but I love to do live shows, they're so much fun!
Catch more of CurlyNikki's interviews, like this one with Leela James!
Final Thoughts from CurlyNikki
Later, we discussed her curl's objection to being watered too often and how I can totally relate. My hair seems to do better with these dry sets — applying product to my dry hair prior to twisting. It stays moisturized for much, much longer and gives me that soft, perfect 'cloud' like frizz she was talking 'bout!