Kate Branch has a great head of hair—we’re talking signature volume and texture. Which is why, when she told us that she’d spent most of her lifetime in an epic battle against it, we pressed her on what changed her mind. Her response involved Sally Singer, Solange, and blowdrying only the top fourth of her hair, so we thought her journey (and expert tips) deserved to be shared with anyone learning to live with (and love) their unapologetically present hair. Here’s Kate’s story:
I grew up in the north suburbs outside of Chicago, surrounded by friends who were all beautiful, and funny, and smart, and had great, straight—or at least tamable—hair. With my mom’s Colombian and Lebanese roots, I was the only one with a head of seriously unmanageable hair. One hairdresser used to take cigarette breaks in the middle of blowouts. 15 years later, that wrist turn and shake of her numb arm still makes me cringe with embarrassment. It was too much shame to bear as a teenager, so I would make up some excuse and leave right before the blowout only to run home and blow-dry and straighten my hair myself. In my house, the smell of burnt hair was constant, and the likelihood of a fuse outage was high. It would take me three hours to finish a job—not counting breaks. And once complete, I would need another body shower just to wash away the sweat. I always thought if I didn’t make it in magazines, I could moonlight as one of those “before” models in the Frizz-Ease campaigns.
In the spring of 2010, after years of good-natured teasing from my college friends about the amount of space my hair took up in group photos, I landed my first magazine job as the Assistant Editor at Interview. There, I began to feel more comfortable with my hair—it was a job that fed itself on the unordinary. After just under a year, I went to T: The New York Times Style Magazine to be a part of Sally Singer’s regime. Singer is smart, cool and Californian-bred, she was a huge proponent of Hollywood’s natural and unique beauties. As she would explain, we took less of a luxury-of-things approach, and much more of a luxury-of-ideas way of life. My first assignment was to find a group of women who could rock an afro in evening wear as good as any nicely groomed, straight-headed girl. We ended up booking Solange Knowles, Corinne Bailey Rae, Les Nubians, Esperanza Spalding, and Juno Temple for the shoot, and the hairstylist created huge ‘dos that stood strong atop designers like Giambattista Valli, Rochas, and Valentino. The project bolstered my appreciation for my god-given volume.
It was at T that I was fortunate enough to meet my hair stylist, Mike Viggue. He cut his teeth at Sally Hershberger’s salon and now occasionally assistants the legendary Anthony Turner on set and during fashion weeks. The first time I went to him, I asked for the good stuff: a keratin treatment. Six months later, I needed another fix, but he wouldn’t give it to me. “Your texture is too interesting to ruin,” he said. Interesting? For the next few years he cut and styled my interesting hair with his very capable hands, and a touch of Shu Uemura Yokan Craft hair wax, until I was ready for the ultimate test: a bob. I have been told by countless hairdressers that I would never be able to have bangs or short hair like my peers. Physics just wouldn’t allow for it, they’d say. But Mike did it for me, sans bangs, and taught me a few tricks to keep it from, well, not being wider than long.
"Do away with washing your hair every night and try to go for two weeks," he said, pointing to his assistant who went strong for three or four at a time. I still wet it and condition my ends every couple of days with Kerastase Nutritive Oleo-Curl Intense Masque as a conditioner, but I am proud to say that after many months of debate, I now shampoo my hair with either Kerastase Bain de Force or Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil every 10 days or so. As for blowdrying, unfortunately with this length I can’t always go au naturale. But instead of three hours, it takes me seven minutes to prep. After I put in a palm’s worth of Kerastase Oleo-Relax Slim, which relaxes my curls with out hardening them, or John Masters Organics Citrus & Neroli Detangler, which is also good for gloss, I part my hair in three sections on each side, grab the roots with my hands, and blow dry only the top fourth of my hair. The rest of the way, I roughly comb my hands through and sort of scrunch, or twist or turn my hair under the low heat until I get to the ends. I leave the majority of my hair damp, though, besides the roots. I then spray Oribe Foundation Mist to refresh, and pinch my ends with my boyfriend’s Cool Grease or Davines Melu Serum with cherry oil, which keeps them intact and helps pull my hair down instead of out.
On rainy and humid days or when, say, a heatwave hits, I remember what the renowned hair stylist Shay Ashual told me once while on set: “water is your best friend.” Ashual, who has scrunched and twisted and turned hair for the likes of Lady Gaga, Joan Smalls and Lea Seydoux, is not one to lean on products for help. He is all for showers, at least for conditioning every day or so, and told me that if I want to get rid of those empty “pockets” in between my hairs, I should braid it the night before - extremely loose - with a piece of fabric acting as one strand of hair. This manages, but not over manages the “chill” texture I want. I still tend to throw my hair over either side of my head throughout the day, which adds to the volume, but keeps me feeling less styled and more free. And even a little proud to have a huge, curly, head of hair.
“I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life in the twentieth century that is worth pursuing. And the bad artists, of whom there are many, are whining or moaning or staring, because it’s fashionable, into the dark abyss.” —John Gardner, born on this day in 1933
How to Cornrow Your Own Hair, with Errol Douglas and Lottie Winter