Michelle Obama with an Afro? Michelle Obama with an Afro!
It could happen!
And celebrity stylist Johnny Wright—the stylist to the first lady—is the man who would make that happen if it did. Wright, who says Michelle Obama has been completely natural for years now (he straightens her hair with a flat iron), says it is a possibility that maybe the world’s most famous bob could go naturally curly.
Anything could happen, really.
“I don’t know. Maybe on vacation she will,” says Wright, raising the hopes of natural-hair fans everywhere. “She is 100 percent natural now. It is a possibility.”
Watch below as Johnny Wright discusses some of the signature hair looks he’s done over the years for first lady Michelle Obama in this exclusive video:
Chicago born and raised, Wright initially styled Michelle Obama for an Essence magazine shoot when she was the wife of then-Sen. Barack Obama. That editorial shoot, when Wright knew little about the senator or his wife, turned into a blossoming relationship between the future first lady and stylist.
“To be honest, I wasn’t too optimistic, [I wasn’t thinking,] ‘Oh, they’re going to be the first family.’ I was just doing a job,” Wright says, who went on to style Michelle Obama for a few more magazine shoots while he was moving to Los Angeles to work for Frederic Fekkai to craft red-carpet-ready looks for celebrity clients.
“I remember telling her, ‘I’m moving to L.A. Good luck, I hope you all win,’” Wright says matter-of-factly.
But then Wright got the call to spend a week doing Michelle Obama’s hair for the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008. Fekkai gave Wright the week off as Michelle Obama was set to give a big speech and be formally presented to the world. She was putting her trust in Wright. Prior to him, the only person who’d done her hair professionally was stylist Ronnie Flowers, who’d done her hair since she was a child.
Wright, realizing the gravity of the moment, asked the soon-to-be first lady, “Do you mind shampooing your hair when you get ready for the night?”
“And she was a little reluctant because she’d just had a relaxer a couple days before,” Wright says. “I think she knew that I wanted to put my stamp on it. She agreed, a little reluctantly, but she agreed. But I remember the next morning after the speech. The speech was widely popular, but everybody talked about her hair.”
Blessed with his flat iron of God (and “a round brush. Some sheers … I did a little bit of everything that day,” he says), Wright took himself from sometimes-stylist to full-time. When the Obamas moved to the White House, so did he.
It’s all been a whirlwind ever since for Wright, as he spoke with The Root from the bustling Lauriol Plaza restaurant in the Adam’s Morgan section of Washington, D.C., on Friday.
With a big smile, Wright admits that when Michelle Obama leaves the White House in 2016, his other celebrity clients will be thrilled—particularly NBC anchor Tamron Hall.
“She’s always battling with my schedule with the first lady,” Wright says, mockingly adding, “Dang it, she’s got you again!” to Hall’s being bumped.
While it may not always be fun for his other clients (poor Tamron Hall), Wright has it pretty good doing the hair of one of the most famous heads in America, possibly the world. Who wouldn’t want the first African-American first lady for a muse? It’s not every day a stylist gets to make front-page news for a hairdo.
Wright has no overarching hair philosophy (“I’m not that deep”) but proudly believes "that hair is a language. If it’s not moving, it has no voice.” He was inspired to do hair by his grandmother Minnie Brown, who started doing hair at age 13 and continued to work as a stylist until she was 91 years old.
Something of a hair child prodigy, Wright was told by his grandmother that he was able to put hair into “a clean ponytail” by age 3. By age 12 he started developing his own hair clientele, gaining a full roster of clients by age 14. His father then built a salon in the basement for Wright to work out of, which he did, until he was about 20.
Wright doesn’t believe in those old schisms of “good” and “bad” hair. (“Hair is hair. It’s all beautiful.”) Instead, he believes the current move toward going natural—one even the first lady got caught up in—is one part trend, one part revolution.
“I think a lot of women are starting to see what type of damage chemicals has caused their hair over the years, and they’re really starting to embrace their curls and really embrace the fact that they can be versatile,” Wright says. “They can wear it curly. They can wear it straight. They don’t have to really conform to any particular look. They can do it all, and that’s one thing that is going to stick. That’s the revolution part of it. … The revolution part will stick. All about curl power.”
As the Obamas wind down their stay in the White House, Wright is considering what his next moves may be. He’ll definitely do television, maybe a product line, maybe put his name on a salon, but he may also write a book. (“A memoir maybe; a beauty book as well.”)
But as for his relationship with his most famous client, that’s one that Wright hopes will not change.
“I do plan on continuing to working with the first lady in some capacity,” Wright says. “If she’ll have me, I’ll be with her.”