If anyone knows how to get the right shade of red for Black hair, it’s Camille Friend. The Oscar-nominated hair department head, whose credits include “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” experimented with adding color into Lupita Nyong’o’s hair, and now she’s doing it again. This time, it was for Halle Bailey in Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid.” But doing so didn’t come cheap.
Her challenge was taking Disney’s most famous redhead, Princess Ariel, and creating a look for Bailey that would work. On top of that, maintaining Bailey’s natural hair was an important requirement she needed to meet.
Bailey, who sports long locs, wanted to stay true to her Black heritage. And maintaining them without a wig would herald an important moment for representation and Bailey’s identity, as the movie presents Disney’s first Black Ariel (and first Black princess in a live-action movie.)
Speaking with Variety, Friend says she began with Bailey’s roots. “I went to meet with Halle’s family. Her mother is spiritual and they’re a kind family.” She adds, “I started to understand who she was and why the natural hair element was important to keep.”
Both Disney and director Rob Marshall had no qualms.
Once Friend had approval and an understanding of this, she began her creation process. “I look at the facial shape, skin tone and eye color. And what color her costume is going to be.”
Friend was determined not to cut any of Bailey’s natural hair or use a wig. “I knew a wig just wasn’t going to work,” she says.
Friend’s dilemma was creating the iconic red-haired princess look without cutting Bailey’s locs. The wrap process took 12 to 14 hours. She says Bailey was a “trooper,” and Friend got the process down to a reasonable time. She says, “Halle’s locs are down to her waist, over 24 inches. And putting her in a wig was going to look crazy.”
She returned to playing with the red. “If we take hair and wrap it around her locs, we don’t have to cut them and we don’t have to color them. We can change her color without changing her internal hair structure. Her structure and her hair are her,” says Friend about her thought process.
The 30-inch long hair was custom-colored and fused in with Keratin tips. “It’s three shades of red,” says Friend, who found the hair at Extensions Plus in Chatsworth. “I’m not guesstimating, but we probably spent at least $150,000 because we had to redo it and take it out. You couldn’t use it and we’d have to start again. It was a process.”
Once she had figured that out, she had to deal with the water element. “Locs don’t float,” says Friend. And the hair needed to “dance” when Ariel was underwater. Her solution? Adding loose pieces of hair.
When Ariel loses her voice and transitions to a human being, Friend switched her hair slightly, wanting to show Ariel’s vulnerability. “She doesn’t know what it’s like to be human.”
The pieces of hair were straighter with a slight beachy wave. Friend says she used an oval-shaped GHD iron. “I still wanted it to feel like an ocean wave.”
As for that hair flip that Ariel does when she emerges from the water, Friend was not on set for that – COVID and scheduling conflicts prevented her from completing the film. “Tiffany Williams jumped in there and took the movie the rest of the way…This is what I know, Halle did the hair flip, and it was helped with CGI.”