As the first Black hairstylist for Marvel, Camille Friend has made headlines for her wig making and hair styling over the last 20 years in major publications like Essence, The Cut, The New York Times and The Huffington Post. With a client list of notable actors and actresses like Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o and Don Cheadle alongside multiple movie credits, including Dreamgirls, The Help, and Hunger Games – Mockingjay pts. 1 & 2, it’s safe to say Camille has a strong brand in Hollywood.
Her most notable movie to date, Black Panther, led to her work becoming recognized globally.
Her Agenda sat down with Marvel stylist Camille Friend to discuss her start in the entertainment industry, creating a strong reputation and the importance of relationships to open the door to bigger opportunities.
Her Agenda: Many women, like yourself, transition from a small town to Los Angeles in hopes of making a name for themselves. Tell us about how you built your brand and success as a stylist before entertainment.
Camille Friend: I’m a small-town girl from Arizona. I interviewed to be an assistant with many notable salons before landing the position with renown stylist, John Atchison. He worked years at Vidal Sassoon and then he developed his own hair cutting system and salon. I knew I wanted to work under him because he had a strong presence and a great program for hair stylist. For about 18 months, I worked with Atchison catching the LA bus every day, making very little money. To pay my bills, I worked in LA’s Broadway district on the weekends. I also worked with models and helped in training programs, which helped me develop my career and spread my name.
Her Agenda: It sounds like the apprenticeship and a part-time was busy and somewhat stressful, especially taking the bus every day. How did you stay encouraged?
Camille Friend: I remember I was on the phone with my mother crying because I was stressed. I had a great support system who encouraged me and never told me to come back home unless I wanted to. Honestly, those were some of the greatest times of my life. I was just reminiscing with a colleague about getting very cheap dinners during that time because that’s all we could afford. This has kept me humble today because where I was at during that time.
I remember I was on the phone with my mother crying because I was stressed. I had a great support system who encouraged me and never told me to come back home unless I wanted to
Her Agenda: How did you break into the entertainment industry?
Camille Friend: I fell into this career. It wasn’t something I had previous plans for accomplishing. God had a bigger plan for me because I obviously didn’t have one. I was working as a stylist when I received a call to work the movie A Thin Line Between Love and Hate styling my friend, Lynn Whitfield’s wigs. The movie later became unionized and that was it. That set my career into motion.
Her Agenda: After your first movie, how did you know for sure that was the path you wanted to take your career?
Camille Friend: I was a fish to water and my love for wigs grew during that time. I actually met actress Simbi Khali on the set of Thin Line Between Love and Hate and she needed a Black hair stylist to do her hair on a TV show called 3rd Rock From the Sun. I agreed and it turned out to be a huge hit. With that it just all happened so magically.
Her Agenda: Is it hard to break in the industry, especially as a Black stylist?
Camille Friend: First and foremost, you have to remember you’re a hairstylist and be the best at that. You need to know how to do everything: cut, extensions, color, wigs, barber, style. My formula of success has been being transparent and be able to style in any form I need to. Whoever sits in my chair, I can do their hair. A lack of knowledge in hairdressing and etiquette is what I have seen slow down people in their careers.
Another thing that breaks you into this industry is your people skills. I’ve seen great hairstylist who are not good with people and ruin their careers. This is how I eventually started working for Marvel. There was a producer I met on 3rd Rock from the Sun and he is currently the Vice President of Marvel. We also worked together on The Pursuit of Happyness. I did a good job and that ended. I randomly saw him during Christmas one year at the grocery store and asked him when he would give me a Marvel movie to style. I told him I was ready and I wanted my shot. A couple of months later, I went on an interview for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and got the job.
Her Agenda: Working at Marvel, you’ve gone on to be the head hairstylist of Black Panther. How was this experience?
Camille Friend: Black Panther was a great celebration of life and also great for my career. I never knew through this movie I would be a vehicle in the awareness of Black women and natural hair. It wasn’t what I set out to do and, now, a whole beautiful dialogue has evolved. It’s a movie I’ll always be proud of.
Black Panther was a great celebration of life and also great for my career. I never knew through this movie I would be a vehicle in the awareness of Black women and natural hair.
Her Agenda: Even as a head stylist, you still take time to train younger stylist starting their careers. Why is this important for you?
Camille Friend: HAIR SCHOLARS is my baby and the love of my life right now. I teach classes and I give knowledge to stylists who are either already in the business or in beauty school, teaching specifically on wigs, cutting and styling.
Her Agenda: What’s coming next for you in your career?
Camille Friend: My next movie, Charlie’s Angels is coming soon and you’re definitely going to be blown away. There’s diversity in the Angels. We’ve arrived at a Black action star. My friend Elizabeth Banks, who is also the Director, just told me how the movie tested well. it’s a girl power movie, perfect for the Her Agenda ladies who work hard and are bosses. I also am focusing on HAIR SCHOLARS and hope to expand it nationally.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photo credits: Criterion Group, Camille Friend.]