Miami-born hairstylist makes Rihanna's hair a star

Yusef and Rihanna

Rihanna's hair seems to be in a constant state of follicle-flux.

Since she burst onto the scene in 2005, the singer-actress-fashionphile has: morphed her hairstyle; crayola kaleidoscoped her color and even wigged out a couple of times.

Through much of it was Miami-born stylist Yusef, who has been giving her locks some love for the last four years.

"She's not scared to do anything," says Yusef, who works out of the Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "She's a risk taker. She'll say, 'Shave it, I don't care. Oh, we're wearing wigs today? Great.' It's the best thing for a hairstylist to have someone so open and ready to try anything."


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For her "Diamonds World Tour" which will touch down at the BB&T Center in Sunrise this Saturday (if her reported illness doesn't force her to cancel), Yusef says that the hair has to mesh with the overall look onstage, including the moody Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy costumes.

"Me and the stylist, we looked at every costume and we even had diagrams of the stage so I would know what I was creating. The lighting, the wardrobe, it's all kind of like a collaborative effort for everyone. We wanted softer, easy-going hair. Not too contrived. Something she can just be a rock star and fling all over the place. The Givenchy [designs] are kind of dark, so we went with strawberry blond and caramel to soften everything up."

A graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School who now lives in New York, Yusef Williams (he doesn't use his surname professionally) met the Barbados-born Rihanna through her makeup artist Mylah Morales and singer Jazmine Sullivan.

"Mylah had been telling her about me for a long time," Yusef says from his mother's home in Miami Gardens. "I was with Jazmine at a charity event and we kind of met and it was a big thing. Two weeks later she took me to Paris for fashion week."

Or he should say back to Paris. That's where Yusef spent a year studying with L'Oreal and Vidal Sassoon before moving to New York in 2001. Before all of that international exposure he went to beauty school in Miami and watched his mother do hair at home.

"Mom did hair on weekends. Friends would come over and I watched her. Then I would practice looks on my sister. And I started taking pictures from magazines and trying to do those looks."

Now he sort of does the same thing with Rihanna, sitting around plotting their next move by sniffing the Zeitgeist.

"It isn't really one influence. What we do is take so many things and bring them all together. It can look Grace Jones. Or we can be inspired by Halle Berry. And then we'll look at a men's magazine and give it a bit more edge and make it more masculine. We sit around and try to figure out how we can create something that is not too complicated and to is easy keep up. She doesn't want to do anything for her fans that they would not be able to achieve. I mean, you don't want some girl coming home and saying, 'Mom, I shaved all my hair off like Rihanna.' "

The products he uses on Rihanna's hair include Organic Root Stimulator olive oil treatments, Paul Labrecque and Echelon Hair. To see more of his work, go to FactoryDowntown.com.

"I try to use the best hair care products for sure when I'm doing all these things," Yusef says laughing. "At the end of the day I need to have hair on her head. On the tour bus we're always doing treatments to make sure her hair stays healthy."

Even with her crazy schedule? After all, Rihanna didn't get 100 million digital sales (and counting) and 3.2 billion YouTube views by sitting still.

"Yeah I just run around with her and do it at the same time. It's a crazy situation, but when it's time for her to get her hair done, she is ready to do it. I think it's kind of therapeutic, to be creative in a different way. Beauty is something that's important to her. She's an island girl so she was raised to have good hair and makeup and to be a lady."