Meet Ursula Stephen and Nthato Mashishi

17 Oct

Ursula and Nthato

About two weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing celebrity hairstylists Ursula Stephen (‘US’) and Nthato Mashishi (‘NM’).  Ursula is best known as being Rihanna’s hairstylist though she has styled many celebrities including Keisha Cole, Monica, Kerry Washington, Iman, Mary J Blige and more.  Nthato on the other hand has styled for many magazine covers and worked with Bonang, Bassie Khumalo, Terry Pheto, Lira, Nhanhla Nciza and many more.  It was a great interview, more of a conversation really!  We spoke about all sorts of things hair related.  Here are their thoughts:

On weaves …

US – You need to realise that celebrities don’t look like that every day.  They are styled to be photographed for functions and events.  Off camera they look ordinary just like everyone else.  Celebrities do not look like that every day.   Stylists create an illusion when it comes to celebrity’s hair and the illusion is very difficult to match.  Remember, there is a whole team behind a look, including the right lighting and the best photographers.  Don’t think that what you see on a magazine is what a celebrity looks like every day.  Don’t just follow celebrity hairstyles blindly.  You need to choose what works for you based on your lifestyle, personality and budget.

A full sew in weave is one of the best weaves because it protects your whole head.  You do not need to worry about flat ironing and combing your hair every day to blend your hair with the weave.

When you see celebrities with red hair one month, blonde the next and then black the next month – remember that stylists are using extensions to achieve those different looks and colours.  We do not colour the hair each time to achieve the different looks.  Do not colour your hair frequently to follow trends!

NM – The hair underneath the weave needs to be taken care of.  Weaves are an accessory and should be seen as such.  The hair underneath the weave needs to be nourished.  Women tend to relax when they get weaves / braids.  This is often the cause of hair breakage and hair loss.

On relaxers…

NM – Do not take short cuts with relaxers.  They involve chemical reactions.  Do not take chances.

US –There is a lot of overlapping of relaxers.  Only relax the new growth.  That’s the main issue I found in South Africa, a lot of hairstylists are overlapping relaxers.  The problem is that you do not see issues / problems from overlapping relaxers right away so sometimes you will not associate these issues with overlapping relaxers.  Education is important.  That’s why we have been doing master classes in South Africa, to educate hair stylists.

On how celebrities maintain their hair…

NM – It’s a team effort.  Celebrities also look after their hair at home between stylist visits.  Celebrities also have hair problems when they neglect their hair.  They are not immune to hair issues.  Treating hair is crucial for healthy hair.

On hair colour …

NM – There are two types of colour – semi permanent and permanent.  Permanent hair colour contains peroxide.  Know which one you are using.  Leave 3 to 4 weeks in between relaxer and colour if you are using permanent colour.  Sometimes permanent colour is used after a relaxer on the ends of the hair as highlights.  This can work if the colour is kept only on the ends.

On choosing a good hairstylist…

NM – a good stylist knows his craft.  He knows the products he uses.  He educates himself about latest trends, products and ingredients.  He follows the guidelines of hairdressing.  Find a good hair stylist through word of mouth.  Get recommendations from happy clients.

On maintaining a cropped cut…

US – Wrap a short hairstyle at night.  Unwrap the hair in the morning and use pomade / gel to pick the hair and shape it the way you want.  A short cropped cut is actually low maintenance.  Just make that you get a great cut and also get regular trims to maintain the cut even as often as every 2 weeks.

On Minnie Dlamini’s hair…

Minnie’s hair at SAFW

I asked about Minnie’s hairstyle on the South African Fashion Week ramp and whether they had added a hairpiece to make her perm rod set fuller and longer.

NM – It’s all her hair.  There is no hair piece or extension!  The spiral curls have been pulled up and teased so that the hair is high.  The perm rod set can be done with different lengths of hair and different perm rod sizes can be used to get different looks.  You can add a hair piece to achieve the style but we didn’t add any to achieve that particular style on Minnie.

On Rihanna’s latest short cropped hairstyle…

Rihanna’s latest hairstyle

US – That is Rihanna’s own hair.  It’s relaxed.  We wanted to create something simple so we could give her hair a break.

On Rihanna’s next hairstyle…

US –wait and see!!

On their accessibility as hairstylists…

NM – I render my services to anybody who can afford them.  If you can afford my services I’m happy to render them to you.

US – I agree.  With anything in this world, there is a market.  If you can afford my services then I will provide them to you.  Often though I am booked way in advance and cannot accommodate someone on short notice.  I cannot take them on as a client not because I only service certain types of people but because I am already booked.

On the inspiration behind their celebrity looks…

US – Inspiration comes from all over.  I make sure I keep up with what’s happening in fashion etc.  I collaborate with stylists.  I also know my clients and know what they can pull off.  A style I would do for Rihanna would not necessarily work for Monica because they have two different personalities.  I have a mental list of things I’d like to try, for example, on the red carpet or on certain clients.  I dream hairstyles!  I always have magazines and constantly check websites – that’s how I educate myself and keep up to date with my craft.

NM – There is also pressure to deliver.  There is pressure from the public to see what’s next.  We are constantly thinking and following trends.

On getting into the celebrity hairstylist industry…

US – Immerse yourself with everything hair.  If you have to push a broom, push one at a salon.  When I started I was working as an assistant in a salon and not allowed to touch hair but I was in the environment where hair was being done.

NM – I started working in salons on school holidays, prepping and shampooing clients.  Never stop learning and always be hungry to learn.  Equip yourself with knowledge to stay on top of your game.   Also think of it as a business – you are a brand.

On their favourite styles that they have done…

American Idol performance 2011

MTV Europe Music Awards 2012

Back of the hairstyle

Kids Choice Awards 2008


Bonang Matheba

True Love Magazine Dec 2011 (same weave as above, just flat ironed straight)

18th SAMA awards – pieces were added to the weave to create volume on the side

How to get hold of them:

Twitter: @NthatoMashishi

Twitter: @UrsulaStephen

Nthato’s manager : email –


4 Responses to “Meet Ursula Stephen and Nthato Mashishi”

  1. nancy 17 October, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Great article. Both very talented stylists. Love Minnie Dlamini’s hairstyle and love the fact that her hair looks healthy dispite being under a weave most of the time. Also love Rihanna’s cropped cut.

    • Tendayi 18 October, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Thank you Nancy 🙂

  2. Annatjie 20 November, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    ur realy doin an owsome job guys,ur trully an inspiration. keep it up!!

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