By Hannah Karpel
have a complicated relationship with my hair. It comes from years of scraping it back into a bun, in denial of its capability, married with sighs by hairdressers and compliments by school friends whenever it was straightened. For as long as I can remember all I have ever wanted was pin-straight hair, a glossy balayage, or a sharp badass fringe, and believe me I gave them all a try. Coming into the world with a head of thick black curls you would think that by now at the age of 22, I'd be well-versed in how to style curly hair.
I’ve inherited my curls from my Indian dad who has a strong head of thick black hair, although now it’s dyed, it’s not quite as thick as in his youth. My mum who raised me has always had her trademark straight brunette bob so styling my mane wasn’t her forte and despite her efforts when I was a child, I am told the result usually ended in me screaming and doing it myself, which sounds about right.
Attending a secondary school in predominantly white West Sussex, not only did all of my friends have the same loose hair texture, all of the local hairdressers were only attuned to catering for this style too. It became the norm that they would blow dry my hair straight to cut it and I would be embarrassed turning up at the hairdressers knowing the stylist hadn’t bargained for me. I longed for a Brazilian blow dry so I wouldn’t have to fight my hair every day or fear the rain ruining hours of manual labour from the morning.
But last year something changed. At the beginning of lockdown, I worked as an extra on a new film. All twenty of the girls I was cast with were of different ethnicities and had the most gorgeous range of curls, afros and waves. One morning I came in with my natural hair, having just washed it and we began to share our hair care routines, of which mine was evidently lacking. For the first time, I wanted to learn how to style my curls. I was utterly mesmerized by my friend Racquel’s head of tight ringlet 3B curls. A curly hair influencer herself, I was in fact influenced and she wrote down the products I should purchase of which I raced to order. I discovered the curly hair world of Instagram where so many people are sharing their transition journey and tips to get from heat-damaged straight hair to healthy, bouncy curls and I wanted to be a part of it.
A wide-tooth comb, Denman brush, curling cream and ten conditioners later, a routine that worked for me was starting to form and so were my curls. But what I really wanted was a decent cut, with someone who understood what my hair goal was, who could tell me if I was doing it right and wouldn’t have a heart attack at a bit of thickness. I heard about Unruly Curls through a few friends and waited two months for my appointment because they were so overprescribed and when I turned up last week it became clear to me why.
Located off a residential street in Latimer Road, West London, Unruly Curls founded by Michael Price really is a hidden gem. On stepping into their curly haven I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, I’d never seen so many people with different types of curly hair in one room. The walls were filled with diffusers and products I use, recognise and love. While waiting for my appointment I chatted to two women, one had been to the salon multiple times and swore to only trust them with her hair and the other, like me, was there to experience her first curly cut after searching desperately for the “top curly hairdressers in London” on Google.
The wonderful Advanced Stylist Vicky, who has worked at Unruly Curls for 6 years, having started as the receptionist, had her hands on my mane. She listened to my request and we opted for a trim that would keep my length but add shape to avoid the dreaded triangle. As she washed my hair using the paraben and sulfate-free shampoo Miniml, then conditioning with Cantu Shea Butter Cream conditioner she showed me the amount of product she was using which was no more than two-pound coins, so I could do the same at home.
After my cut, it was back to the washbasin to drench my hair ready for styling products. I then lay on my front with my head hanging down as two diffusers dried my hair and Vicky scrunched it using Aunt Jackie’s Frizz patrol - perfect for holding all curls without any stickiness or crunch. For definition and separation, Vicky then went in with Curls Rock Amplifier from Catwalk by Tigi. I looked around the room as all the women lay too with their long, short, thick and thin curls dangling over the diffuser and felt a sense of warmth and appreciation. To finish, a final touch of L’Oreal Elvive’s Extraordinary Oil was massaged into my dried hair for added shine and health.
In Michael Price’s book “Unruly Curls: How to manage style and love your hair”, published in 2017 he outlines how to find the right stylist and avoid a bad cut:
Do your research. The internet is a valuable resource.
Do stop and ask curly-haired people in your area where they get their hair cared for and if they would recommend anyone particular.
Do book in for a wash and dry consultation. If they can’t dry your hair nicely with it’s natural texture then they won’t be able to cut it nicely either.
Do arrive with your hair dried naturally, so that your stylist can see its natural texture.
Do take along photos of styles you like - it really helps. Try to find photos of your hair that is a similar texture to yours.
Do ask who is the salon’s busiest stylist, or who is the most difficult to get an appointment with. This will usually put you in the chair of someone who is in demand and has some skills.
Do not go in asking for a radical transformation on your first visit. Let the hairdresser prove him- or herself by simply giving your hair a trim first.
Do not tell them what you want straight away. Save that for after they have been given a chance to tell you what they think you ought to do with your curls.
Do not go through with the appointment if you sense the stylist is uneasy or seems intimidated. If your stylist is stressed, you will be too.
Armed with tips and tricks from my hairstylist to make my at-home hair routine more manageable, I bounced out of my appointment that day feeling as though I wore a crown on my head. Beyond the way my hair looked, I felt like myself. Hair is rooted in so much more than just aesthetics, it’s our identity and culture, and for once, I wasn’t forcing my hair or myself to be something it isn’t.
Cuts at Unruly Curls start at £50 and my appointment with an Advanced Stylist was £65. Find the full list of services and prices from Unruly Curls here.
Unruly Curls is one of few curly hair specialists in the capital city, here Hannah Karpel shares her experience as she trades in her GHD straighteners for Aunt Jackie’s Frizz Patrol.
By Hannah Karpel