Laverne Cox is already well-known to body an over-the-top look—it doesn’t hurt that the statuesque actress has the stage presence to match. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that the Emmy-nominated breakout star of Orange Is the New Black donned a series of dramatic looks for Paper magazine’s “America” issue, released in tandem with Hulu’s Black star-studded Halloween-ready horror satire, Justin Simien’s Bad Hair. But what is surprising is the look that didn’t make the moody shoot—which was unfortunate, since it was literally hair-raising.
As reported by Allure, Cox’s role as hairstylist Virgie inspired the the shoot’s stylist, fashion editor Alexander Julian, to create a custom look as a “‘wow’ moment” for the star (no small feat, when she’s already had so many). “I was thinking, What can I do [that’s] really cool for Laverne?” he told Allure. “I wanted to do something that was really kind of epic.”
The answer came in a flash—or, should we say a bundle—that is, seven bundles of bleached-blonde Kanekelon.
“Kanekalon, oh my goodness. That stuff is hard to use,” said Julian, who graciously gave us permission to post the finished result, a one-shouldered mermaid gown adorned with braids, coils, waves and streams of braiding hair close in shade to Cox’s own wig (styled by another of our perennial faves, 2020 Glow Up 50 honoree Ursula Stephen).
“Literally take it out the packet, it gets tangled immediately, and then there’s hair all over my apartment,” Julian added. “I think the first packet of hair was almost a complete waste because it got completely tangled and impossible to use.”
If you’ve ever actually had your hair braided or a weave sewn-in, you know that’s only the half of it.
“We’ve had our edges yanked for weaves and extensions for a really, really long time. I used to do these microbraids back in the early ‘00s,” Cox tells Paper. “My butt would go numb and I took the pillow up to an African braiding salon in Harlem. I would sit for 12 to 16 hours sometimes getting these braids done…I think this film is an opportunity, if we choose to accept it, to exorcise the demons of white supremacy and these restrictive beauty standards and let go.”
Trust, we’re working on it. But in the meantime, Julian has a found a perfect way to redirect that energy—and that hair. More on the dressmaking process, from Allure:
While he knew some things about braiding hair from the women in his life, it was still a learning process to work with the product. Anyone who has dealt with [Kanekalon] hair knows one thing: It tangles a lot. And Julian learned quickly…using some of the knowledge he had from watching braiders, he armed himself with a spray bottle and hair wax to style the pieces. In total, the process took two days, which includes the detangling, braiding, and styling that was necessary to turn each pack of 84 inches into a look he wanted.
Yes, you heard that right: 84 inches and two days—and the dress never made the spread. Nevertheless, as Julian captioned an Instagram post, it was “one of [his] favorite parts of this shoot,” which is why we just had to give it some love. Would he do it again? We’re guessing probably not, “but [it] was def worth the memories,” he says.