Welcome to The Hair Enquiry, our deep dive into the hair rituals, routines and habits behind some of the most enviable locks to ever grace Instagram. We see it as our public duty to ask the questions others are too shy to, so we’ve set ourselves on the mission to probe our exceptionally haired subjects and uncover exactly what they do that makes their great hair so great, right down to the very last product. This week, we spoke to London-based model and freelance hair and makeup artist Portia Williams.
On her hair journey
"I started wearing my hair curly about five years ago and before that I always fought it. It was a bit of a struggle for me because coming from the outskirts of Birmingham, a lot of the mixed race girls I knew would try and straighten their hair to go with European beauty standards. At school, when I was in years 7 and 8, there were only two other girls with textured hair but both of them were a bit darker than me and had slightly more that afro texture to their hair. Although it was a bit different we’d still inspire each other with our plaits and different styles.
They always wore it curly but I never felt hugely comfortable with mine so I found myself fighting it.
"When you're young, you just want everything to be easy and hair takes a lot of time, so it was a little frustrating. Rather than let it be, I tended to go with a hair-up kind of thing, scraping it all back and then having it curly on the top, although those curls didn't have the lusciousness that I’ve got going on now—it's taken a lot of time and effort to work out what’s best for them.
"It wasn’t until I moved to London when I started to become a lot more comfortable with myself and saw other people embracing their natural hair texture that I felt comfortable going with my own curls. I guess I finally saw it as something that was beautiful. And that's kind of when my hair journey really started, as I've come to understand what my hair needs and have started to really care for it, doing treatments and keeping the moisture in it."
On hair maintenance
"I rarely get my hair cut—I think I did it only once last year and yeah, it was a nice cut, but I kind of regretted it afterwards because I realised I just want my hair to be as long as possible so I can braid it without adding extra hair, and stuff. Some people think you have to trim it to keep it healthy and I guess everyone is different but unless my hair is looking split at the ends then I won’t trim it. I think it's all about caring for your hair so well that it doesn't need to be trimmed all the time.
"I go to see Lisa Farrall, who is a specialist in afro and curly hair and she's also the founder of Wig London [a collective of beauty experts promoting equality in the sector]. Weirdly enough, she lives underneath me, but I usually go to the salon to have my hair done as she has all of her stuff there, and there's more space.
"She does my colour too. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to add some blonde into my hair. I made a moodboard of what I wanted it to look like but also what I didn’t want it to look like—sometimes that’s more important. Lisa applies my colour freehand, pulling the hair curl by curl and painting on around six different shades.
"I started by only putting blonde into the ends as I was so scared I would risk losing the health of my hair, especially as I had just got It looking full and soft and curly. I've done it a couple of times since, and now I feel way more comfortable and confident that it isn't just going to fall out."
On hair washing
"I don’t wash my hair very often at all, maybe once every two weeks or 10 days. Although if my scalp starts to get itchy, it’s often a sign that perhaps there’s too much conditioner in it so I will wash it, but unless that happens, I'll wait it out.
"I really love Curlsmith and I use all of the products—they're literally amazing. I start by putting on the conditioner [Curlsmith Curl Conditioning Oil-in-Cream, £19] with only a little bit of water and comb it through really gently to make sure it's properly distributed, starting from the ends and working my way up to the roots. Then I’ll do a cowash [Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash, £18] and make sure that’s combed right through, again with a little bit of warm water."
"Next, I’ll put on the treatment [Curlsmith Intense Deep Treatment Oil Serum, £26] mixing a bit of the conditioner with it. Once it's on, I then put cling film over it and then put on a hood or a hat to keep in the warmth. It works best if I can leave it on overnight. I sleep on a silk pillowcase but also wear a silk headscarf—if the headscarf falls off, then I’ve always got a back up!
'If I don't have time to sleep on it, I'll just leave it on for as long as I can stay in the house. I'll rinse it off with cold water, because I’ve found the cold water stops it from getting frizzy. Just like the pores on your face, the shock of the cold water closes the hair cuticle."
"After that, I’ll take another dollop of conditioner, run that through the hair and then squeeze all of the water out. That gives it just a little layer of like smoothness over the hair but as the water dilutes the conditioner, it doesn't feel like too much product—I hate it when my hair feels weighed down as it means I can't get the volume I want. Then, I take a tiny bit of the Curlsmith Soufflé [£19]—not a lot—and pull that through the ends before wrapping it in a towel to soak up any excess water.
After half an hour, I’ll take it out and let it dry naturally.
"Finally, I’ll use my fingers to boost the roots. I never do this on the top of the hair, as that will cause frizz, but instead I go underneath, lifting the hair to build volume form the inside out. I never use a hairdryer on my hair unless I’m in a very desperate situation but that’s very rare. As its coloured, I just don’t think it’s a very good idea."
On next-day styling
"As I wash my hair so infrequently, I tend to just freshen up my curls on the days they need it. I’ll get a bit of water on my hands and then, rather than running my fingers through my hair, I’ll just place the palm of my hand over the outside of it to smooth over without breaking up the curls or causing any frizz. If you end up wetting your roots and full head of hair every day, you’ll never get that volume because there’s so much moisture in the hair. So if you just focus on the outside of the hair and the ends of the curls, it keeps the moisture in but allows you to have the volume day after day.
"Then, I’ll put a little bit more soufflé in and let it dry and that usually does the trick—it's kinda like a curl restarter that’s super quick."
On the one thing she'd change about her hair
"I'd love for my hair to be longer. When I was younger, around 10 or 11 years old, I just felt so fed up with my hair and so I just asked my mum to cut it all off. I got teased that I looked like a boy and obviously I got upset because you just can’t win. But now, I wish that I had never cut it because I just want it to be longer.
"It takes forever to grow—it's not that the individual hairs take longer to grow but there’s obviously shrinkage and bounce back with curls so it takes way longer to look longer."
Follow Portia on Instagram at @portiaferrari.
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