Solange Knowles-Ferguson, as most would agree without argument, is a visual savant’s delight. From the smoothness of her skin and the symmetry of her face to the quirks of her colorful makeup to the nimble bends of her posed body, she is a photographer’s dream. To stylists, she is an enviable canvas. Most valuable of all, however, is her crowning glory. Her hair, a national treasure, morphs to match her mood, and the visions of creatives she is a muse for. Just one outward expression of her individuality, her hair has boasted straight tresses, thigh-length Poetic Justice braids, close shaves, teeny-weeny afros, kinks, coils, weaves, wigs, braided sculptures and, lately, in blonde.
London’s Evening Standard Magazine was the latest publication to capture some of her magic and package it into cover story form. On its cover, a noticeably bronzed Solange stares back into the lens with neat blond straight-back cornrows giving off the impression of a pixie cut. However, instead of proudly reposting the new cover on her Instagram, she posted the unedited image showcasing a towering sculpture of blonde braids at the top of her head, with a simple “dtmh @eveningstandardmagazine” as the caption.
Her brilliant third album was both a critical and commercial success, but Solange is as focused on art as she is on music. @saintrecords talks about the influence of her mother, retaining control and where she’s going next… PLUS: A non-stop 24 hours in the @claridgeshotel kitchen, Extreme makeover: the #JEREMYCORBYN edition, @gracedent eats at @CorebyClareSmyth, we take an #ESescape to the Isle of #Eriska AND @anthony_joshua ‘s #MYLONDON #ESmagazine x #Solange Photographers: @elliott.jerome + @dritch Stylist: @mindy_le_brock Hairstylist: @jogoeswest + @vernonfrancois
In the profile (interviewer Angelica Bastien has since publicly disowned the piece due to Evening Standard twisting her words for the final written version), a paragraph about Solange’s deep and personal relationship with hair—specifically black hair—is extremely poignant:
Braiding is important to Knowles. It is an “act of beauty, an act of convenience and an act of tradition” — it is “its own art form,” she adds. Every black woman has a personal journey with her own hair, and for Knowles, it began in her mother’s salon which was a refuge — “a spare bedroom so to speak” — for her as a young girl. Growing up there was pivotal. “I got to experience women arriving in one state of mind and leaving in a completely transformed way. It wasn’t just about the hair. It was about the sisterhood and the storytelling. Being a young girl who was really active in dance, theatre and on the swim team, the salon was a kind of safe haven.”
Why, then, does the very first visual representation of the Solange depicted by this story seem to outright reject the very hair in question, the very hair at the crux of “Don’t Touch My Hair,” the anthem summarizing an experience shared by scores of women of color? Her blonde braided crown—a ring affixed to one straight braid juts from the center of a gathered bun in the center of her head like a halo—has been cropped out of a cover frame, and insultingly so.
As a photographer who has had a hand in design, I know Evening Standard definitely had ample room to showcase the full ‘do, Solo’s manicured face, the whimsically frilled Sheath Clothing garment, dizzying Y/Project spiral pearl earrings and every cover line they needed to cram on the front page. And as someone who also creates art via paints, pens and 3D materials, another familiar feeling comes to mind: an artist being cheated out of their chance to shine.
Much like plait connoisseur Shani Crowe did for Solange’s debut Saturday Night Live performance, braid artist Joanne Petit-Frére carefully crafted Solo’s bleached strands to defy gravity. Elsewhere in the shoot, which found Knowles-Ferguson perched in front of a variety of textured backdrops, four rings of braids came together to form an orb at the top of her head. None of these creations made it to the front page and were instead buried between text after the headline and within the magazine’s pages.
To be fair, the cover looks lovely. But every Solange cover will look as so because, come on, it’s Solange. She is art. But why rob her of the very truth she speaks of in the story—and in every breath she takes into a microphone—right on the magazine cover? Why run the story at all if there’s no consistency between conceptualization and execution? What good does that do? Who does that serve? Not her.
So let her and the single describing her (and our) perpetual #mood spell it out loud and clear: Don’t touch her hair.