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Backstage at Mowalola SS20Photography Charlotte O’Shea

Hairstylist Virginie Moreira is the next big thing

Why you need to know about Virginie Moreira

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Looking at the work of hairstylist Virginie Pinto Moreira inspires an exhilaration not often felt when contemplating hair. Sculptural and avant-garde, while still being playful and lighthearted, her hairstyles are works of art and true expressions of creativity. It’s fresh, exciting, and different to everything else you’ve seen.

Moreira’s interest in hair started at school where she would look on in awe at the meticulously put together hairstyles of the girls around her. Needing a way to express herself creatively while in uniform, Moreira began experimenting with her own hair, trying out different styles and colours, inspired by the strong black women she was seeing on MTV – Eve, Kelis, Lil Kim, and Janet Jackson – and eventually became the designated hairstylist for all her friends. 

These days, as part of the young new guard rising up the ranks, Moreira collaborates with some of the most exciting creatives around: think Arca, FKA Twigs, Mowalola Ogunlesi, Solange, Blood Orange, Kelela, Gareth Wrighton, Misca Notcutt, Carrie Stacks and Ib Kamara. It’s a creative renaissance we couldn’t be more excited about. 

Here, Virginie speaks to us about learning to let go of control (“I’m a Libra ascending so I’m quite a control freak,” she jokes), embracing the ugly, and working with Erykah Badu.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Virginie Moreira: I’ve always been doing hair. I was the girl at school who always had the comb and for some reason people would ask me to do their hair – at the back of the bus or doing my friends’ canerows before school. So I’ve always been the designated hair person. At the age of 15, I started doing work experience at a salon in Clapham Junction. I’m from Stockwell area in South London. Then I got my NVQ in Croydon College.

I ended up leaving the salon. I hated the routine, doing the same thing everyday. I realised I’m just not good with mundane routine things. Being in the salon takes away your creativity if you’re not careful so I had to revamp my whole brain and get into art. I realised I had a thing for sculpture, so I made a few sculptures with hair and metal together.

Luckily I’ve been blessed with a group of friends who are also creative and we would go out and do shoots for our friends who sing or were bringing out projects. I was always doing photoshoots, some of the stylists I assisted in my salon also did celebrities and so I was always in the realm of session styling. From that I’ve just been used to being in a studio or being on location so it was quite natural.

So when you’re doing someone’s hair is it mostly in the moment inspiration? 

Virginie Moreira: Yeah because there are so many artists around me, they have certain characteristics about them that would scream to me and I can gauge from that, from their vibe, what I want to do. 

On the other side, it’s also a collaborative thing where I can use my technical abilities to give them what they want. It’s just down to the confidence of who they are as artists and I feed off of that energy so we can come together and create something. It’s just a fun process to get there, it’s not so much a hairdresser/client rapport, it’s more like let’s have fun with it and you got my hands so let’s see what we can do.

It seems like you have fun, the final results are always so playful and don’t take things too seriously. 

Virginie Moreira: Trying not to take it so seriously. It’s easier that way. I believe any hairstyle suits anybody it’s just about modifying it, changing the shape but maintaining the foundation of the reference that they give me. Sometimes hairstylists will say: ‘That is not going to suit you!’ That’s just not the way to do it, it should be about, ‘let’s try a different approach’ or, ‘yeah you can do that but let’s try it this way.’  

When you were growing up, who was inspiring the way you looked and how you approached doing your hair and make-up?

Virginie Moreira: Well my main inspos were probably Lil Kim, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Naomi Campbell, Iman, Alek Wek – just your normal typical black girl-next-door! Mature, raunchy, feminine, but with a strong presence. Not afraid to step out, be their own flame. Powerful black women in the early 2000s, that era where it could be extreme but it was also subtle. I was in a place where I didn’t have many resources so my inspiration came from my environment: my mum, the salon, my school.

What kind of looks were you seeing at school?

Virginie Moreira: When I moved here from Portugal at the age of 10 I felt like my innocence disappeared because the looks were taken a bit more seriously – the slick down, the gelling down, you needed to relax your hair and make sure the place down is really slick and straight and shiny, make sure you put the rollers in before you go to sleep. I was always astonished by everyone’s hairstyles. 

From then on I developed my way of doing what I wanted to do: the canerows, the beads, extensions, afro puffs, then colouring my hair all types of colours. Colouring my hair red like Eve, and then like Kelis with her big fro. It was just playing around and having fun with it because you’re wearing a uniform so the way I came back to my identity was through my hair.

When you’re doing a hair look is beauty something you think about? Do you try to capture it or do you reject the notion of beauty?

Virginie Moreira: I think because of the aesthetics I’ve grown up with and doing afro hair, there is always an element of precision, everything needs to be positioned perfectly, you’ve got to get the waves right, a finger wave has to be super sharp - there’s a certain control there that afro stylists have to keep to show that they are good. 

I have always kept myself in that realm of boundaries, which I realise is kind of a restriction but getting more into session styling and doing more shoots it’s about deconstructing that and finding the ugly. 

In the past few years as I’ve been working with people like Arca and Ib Kamara, it’s been about giving it a different approach, deconstructing things, letting things run free and then seeing the beauty in that. I guess I'm in the process of deconstructing and just letting go. There’s beauty in all of that. I also appreciate the classical beauty, I do stand for something pristine.  At school I realised that ‘avant-garde’ is the idea of pushing something that we already know but paying homage to the foundations of where it’s from and that’s what afro hair is to me. It is a classical beauty even if from the other side it is seen as ‘other’ but really you need to know where you come from to get to where you’re going.

You’re working with such creative people like Arca who are so good at finding beauty in the ugly and the grotesque and taking that to extreme places. Is it fun to have the freedom to do weird things?

Virginie Moreira: Absolutely. We all need creative freedom, we all need to feel like we can be who we want to be. It’s fun but it can be scary when someone gives you a big platform and so much freedom you have to learn how to refine yourself. It can be equally daunting but it’s fun to have somebody who can trust you. I like being part of the movement, this renaissance of creativity.

Are there any projects you’re really proud of or that stand out to you?

Virginie Moreira: Yes for sure! Well Ib (Kamara) is one of the main ones I really appreciate. What he stands for, you couldn’t ask for anything more moving and inspirational. It’s all been done from the heart and it’s really honest and creative, it’s turning everything on its head.

Working with Erykah Badu, she was so welcoming, so graceful, and you can tell she is just so creative. She understands people’s flow, she was so calm and so sweet. I literally screamed for half an hour in my hotel room when it was done. That’s definitely a standout.

Solange as well she’s another one who’s super inspirational especially in terms of black femininity, Naomi Campbell too. It’s been great working with fabulous women who have been up on my wall.

Have you seen the industry evolve since you first started?

Virginie Moreira: Definitely, especially with diversity. For instance, when I first started doing shows the call sheet would always have me down as afro hair specialist. Now, there’s more attention being put towards the prep and the care that afro hair might need.

It is just about having the right team. If I get a shoot where there will be predominantly be afro girls, I’ll make sure that all of my assistants know how to deal with afro hair, which is good because it means I can bring my fellow black girls with me! It’s really like no one gets left behind. There’s enough imagery, education, and information out there that if you’re not consciously trying to evolve yourself as hair stylists, make-up artists then you're only going to fall behind. I think brands are realising that now.

Is there any advice you’d give to young creatives entering the industry?

Virginie Moreira: Consistency is the best, work hard and do everything from the heart. Just try to be your authentic self because it can be very easy to fall into a trend. Be a nice person. You’re not going to get paid for everything, the entitlement can’t come straight away you really need to put the work in. 

In terms of collaborations, show them what you’re up to, give them an incentive rather than expecting them to have the answer. You have to come in with the same energy as you’d expect someone else to bring in.