“In The Chair With” spotlights the incredible hairstylists in our community who are giving us major inspiration. Each week, they discuss their personal hair and career journeys, what they’ve learned from their clients, and their top hair care tips.
Brooklyn-based braid artist Helena Koudou’s Instagram is a gorgeous moodboard of endless braid inspiration. Cue photos of cornrows braided into the shape of a star, sculpturesque, braided updos, and so much more. “I became passionate about hair when I started working in my aunt’s salon,” Koudou tells ESSENCE. “My passion grew once I realized how good I was at braiding hair.”
And she hasn’t looked back since. “It grew even stronger when I got to see my work on set and in print,” Koudou, who’s been featured in Vogue, and styled hair for AFROPUNK, the Met Gala, among others, says. And it doesn’t hurt that she has a great relationship with her clients—a roster that includes Amandla Stenburg, Jacques Agbobly, Akua Shabaka, and more, either. “They are the reason why my job is so fun,” she says. “Once I realized that I could take my work outside of the salon, my passion for hair increased.”
And in between taking house calls and collaborating with brands, Koudou finds herself working where everything started—alongside her mother and aunt at Alima’s Hair Braiding Salon in Brooklyn. Although she’s self-taught, she credits her skill level to her family members. “If a braid didn’t look right, they would tell me to undo the braid and do it over,” Koudou says. “This really helped me to perfect my braids. All I had to do was look over and see if the boss approved,” she adds. She still approaches her work with this attention to detail now. “Oftentimes, when I’m done with a hairstyle, I always try to make it better than the previous style.”
Below, Koudou goes into detail about her favorite products, healthy hair tips, and so much more.
Her current favorite hair products
“My number one product that I can’t braid without using is the Neat Braid Jam by a brand called Pure. Sometimes I’ll buy a really big jar that can last me up to a month just so that I can always have it on hand. The neat braid jam is the perfect jam to slick and blend the hair with the extensions for a flawless install. It is perfect for braiding all types of hair textures, whether you’ve got 2A or 4C hair.”
Her favorite hairstyles to do
“Right now, I’m obsessed with doing freestyle braids on my clients. I truly feel like I’m an artist at heart because, growing up, art-related classes like music and theater were my favorite. And doing freestyle braids feels like I’m drawing on my clients’ heads. I literally just create any type of shape that I think would look good together.
Besides the freestyle braids, I also like doing braids that you would see in editorials or on runways for my clients. For example, the fingerwave hairstyle and the swirl braids always come out perfect on a client whenever I do them. You can rock a very intricate style as an everyday hairstyle. I think this takes your look to another level.”
Her top tip for healthy hair
“The best tip I can give for healthy hair is to keep it moisturized with less manipulation. Lack of moisture in your hair can dry out and damage it. Also, I think leaving your hair alone is the best way to keep it healthy.”
A hair myth she wants to debunk
“I remember one time I saw people having conversations on Twitter about hairstylists having the craziest rules about straightening hair with a flat iron before braiding. That, to me, defeats the purpose of having a protective style. The goal is for your hair to be less manipulated by putting it in braids. Adding heat damage to natural hair and then being braided can cause more damage to the hair. The best way to prep your hair before braids is to detangle it with a wide-tooth comb and use a blow dryer. For extra protection, you can spray heat-protectant spray on the hair before blow-drying.”
How she uplifts her clients
“Before or during the appointment, I always tell them that their hair looks good and it’s going to look even better after their hair is done, so they should make plans right after. I know that, as women, we take pride in our hair. Believe it or not, there are stylists who shame women for their hair or tell them they can’t achieve a certain style because of their hair, and I think there’s a better way to go about it. The best way to go about it is to not discourage them and show them other options that will also look great on them.
The amount of times my clients open up themselves to me, I’m like, maybe I should go to school and get my license to be a therapist. When my clients open up to me, I do the same because they feel like I’m talking to my homegirl. It feels good to be heard, and it feels even better when the person you’re confiding in has been in your shoes so they can give you advice. Getting your hair done is a very intimate setting, so I try to create a safe space for them not only to look good but also to feel good mentally.”