Creating Trends, One Tress at a Time: How Ursula Stephen Does NYFW

Hairstylist Ursula Stephen prepares models backstage for TRESemme At Cushnie during New York Fashion Week on September 7, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Anna Webber (Getty Images for TRESemme)

We love seeing the results of celebrity hairstylist Ursula Stephen’s work, so when we were invited backstage to watch her create four distinctly different visions for New York Fashion Week, we jumped at the chance. With the help of The Glow Up’s trusty correspondent Makeda Sandford, we were able to catch a glimpse of how the magic happens, one head at a time.

First up? Harlem’s Fashion Row, where Stephen designed the looks for not one, but all three of the evening’s featured designers: Undra Celeste, Kimberly Goldson and Fe Noel. Backstage at any fashion show is pure chaos, but Stephen graciously granted us a few moments, while she and her team turned out dozens of models.


The Glow Up: How does it feel to work with three black women designers for the evening?

Ursula Stephen: I feel great about working with three female designers. A lot of times in this industry, I’m around so many different people—it’s rare that it’s all black designers. It feels great. It feels like we’re in charge, hunny!

TGU: Did it alter your creative process at all?

US: No. I do great work with anybody I work with!

TGU: What’s the inspiration behind the looks?

US: We have a few different inspirations, because every designer is doing something different. One has braids, one is very into accessories, and then we’re doing some wigs, and they’re really about the cuts. So we’re just having fun. Rarely do you go to a show and they have so many different looks. So, I’m just trying to keep a count—and trying not to send the wrong person out with the wrong look!

(L-R) Before and after: A model pre-show; the same model walks the runway at Fe Noel’s fashion show during New York Fashion Week on September 4, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Makeda Sandford, Slaven Vlasic (Getty Images)

TGU: Sounds interesting. Tell us more?

US: For Fe Noel, it’s accessories, and we’re very adamant on getting accessories that lead. We’re working with all textures: straight hair, long hair, short hair, natural hair, and getting creative. And then [for Kimberly Goldson], we have braids, which is amazing. I call them androgynous because it’s something that men and women can wear. It’s also like “dog pound” braids—like random box braids. And [for Undra Celeste] we have an a-line haircut that we’re doing, which is my pride, what I love to do. Now, I’m trying to get it done!


Obviously, we quickly got out of the way of Stephen and her team—but not before asking for her secret styling weapon. Holding up a bottle of Tresemmé Compressed Micro Mist holding spray (Stephen is a stylist for the brand), she said “Today was this. That’s my go-to. It’s really good—It’s a great holding spray without too much aggression. I love it.”


A few days later, we rejoined Stephen on the site of even more NYFW black girl magic—and an even more intense atmosphere—for the highly anticipated debut of Carly Cushnie’s rebranded Cushnie label (formerly Cushnie et Ochs).


For this presentation, Stephen’s inspiration was clear: “Carly knew exactly what she wanted!” she told us. “She pulled out a picture of Sade and that was our inspiration for the hair. Simple, classic and effective.”

Hairstylist Ursula Stephen prepares models backstage for TRESemme at Cushnie during New York Fashion Week on September 7, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Anna Webber (Getty Images for TRESemme)

Though the look may have been simple, to recreate Sade’s iconic braided ponytail, Stephen and her team required a different set of tools from her Tresemmé arsenal; adding heat-protectant, styling spray, gel and her trusty Micro Mist to create an extra-sleek look with indelible hold.


The result? High fashion hair on a drugstore budget—and runaway hit on the runway, as evidenced by the many rave reviews of Cushnie’s relaunch. Is it a crime? Thankfully not; but it’s how Ursula Stephen made it work this fashion week.

Winnie Harlow walks the runway for Cushnie during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery I at Spring Studios on September 7, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.