A few weeks ago, the fashion world swooned upon learning that Rihanna would be a host of the 2018 Met Gala, themed to coincide with the Costume Institute’s upcoming exhibit, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”
Imagining how “Bad Gal RiRi”—first of her name, currently ruler of three simultaneous covers of Vogue Paris (and four of Dazed magazine)—might reinterpret the Catholicism-fueled Baroque era sparked breathless anticipation for next spring’s annual fashion extravaganza.
And then this happened:
As if in rhythm with the visions of haute couture dancing through our heads, the following week, online creative forum My Modern Met ran a feature on AfroArt, a dazzling portrait series “celebrating the beauty of black girls’ natural hair.” It was both glorious and unexpected and instantly went viral, even making an appearance on Common’s Instagram. And because part of our mission here at The Glow Up is to celebrate all iterations of Black Girl Magic—beginning with our youngest—we had to know more.
AfroArt is the brainchild of Regis and Kahran Bethencourt, the husband-and-wife team behind Atlanta-based CreativeSoul Photography. Together, they’ve spent the last eight years building a successful business, ultimately honing their specialty: creating stunning images capturing the natural beauty of black girls. As Kahran explains:
We got into the kids’ fashion space and realized there was a lack of diversity. … We’d get [black girls] trying to get into the fashion industry, and they’d have this nice, gorgeous natural hair. But they’d show up to our shoots with their hair blown out, because they thought that was what they needed to do to get into the industry.
That revelation inspired the Bethencourts to show natural-hair girls—and the world—just how fashionable and elegant natural hair can be. In 2014 they began creating high-concept shoots featuring natural hairstyles; campaigns with kids’ natural-hair-care brands soon followed.
Fast-forward to A World of Curls, a 2016 one-month world tour that documented natural kids in cities and countries including London, Paris, Italy, Greece, South Africa, Ghana and Cuba. The resulting coffee-table book is “a photographic journey intended to inspire kids to love their natural curls.”
AfroArt, due out early next year, will be their second book of portraits. For this series, the Bethencourts have taken a sharply editorial turn, creating highly stylized and evocative portraits of natural young beauties ages 4-12, including 10-year-old viral style star Kheris Rogers, “flexin’ in her complexion,” as always. The series was shot in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City, with each city inspiring a theme, including steampunk and the Baroque era.
“[Baroque] was a period where you didn’t see imagery that contained a lot of us in it, so I thought it’d be really cool context to have the contrast between these eras, and these modern African-American girls with really cool Afro hair be in the picture,” Kahran says. “One of the things I wanted to see was, beyond just the regular Afro, how can we push the limits and show the versatility of Afro hair? Because there’s so much that you can do with it, and I wanted the girls to be inspired by it and to see that it is beautiful, and that there’s so many different things you can do with our hair.”
Of course, AfroArt’s artistry wouldn’t be complete without the masterful skills of celebrity hair designer LaChanda Gatson, an industry veteran who counts actors Tichina Arnold and Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell among her clientele. Although she works with some of the top talents in fashion and film, her work with CreativeSoul remains among her favorites in her portfolio.
“I’m always looking for new and creative ways for people to see how they can wear their hair, especially natural hair. I have to show them that you don’t just have to wear a round ’fro; you can have versatility. … When I get to work with [CreativeSoul], I get my whole black life. I love it,” she says.
Gatson credits this to being given creative freedom when collaborating with the team, admitting that aside from a general mood board, the incredible and often intricate hairstyles she creates are uniquely inspired by each child. (And a few crazy props—including potpourri!)
“When I talk to the kids, that’s how I know where I’m going. I just get creative; I go inside of myself,” she says.
The resulting portraits encompass the entire spectrum of blackness, teasing out the unique beauty of each girl featured (pun intended). And according to Gatson, the experience is as inspiring for the models as for the artistic team.
“I’m the first person who gets to see the end result, so when I turn them around [to the mirror] and see that smile, I love it. They just turn on.”
But most important, at an age when little black girls—and women—are considering what our fairy tales might look like and whether they can come true (shoutout to Meghan Markle), AfroArt elevates the image of black girls—naturally. And for Gatson, that is her ultimate goal.
“We can be just as regal and unapologetic with our 4c [textured] hair or big, big ’fro. ... Let me show you what our princesses look like,” she says.
The Glow Up gift tip: The 2018 AfroArt calendar is now available at CreativeSoul Photography for $29.99.