The Little Mermaid and Camille Friend, The Woman Behind the Locs

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, directed by Rob Marshall. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, directed by Rob Marshall. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Little Mermaid is officially out! There are many things to talk about with this movie. The amazing cast, the magical underwater world, and of course, the captivating music. But with Halle Bailey being the first Black Disney live-action princess, we absolutely must talk about the hair. Halle and her sister Chloe are known for their locs, which Halle has had since she was five. They both style them in incredibly versatile ways to the point where the entire internet is confused as to where they even put them. Halle and Chloe have completely changed the way we talk about, and view locs.

Because of this, it was important for Halle to wear her natural hair for The Little Mermaid. This movie is an underwater musical with looks in water, on land, and with CGI. Creating a look that embodied the original Ariel and also brought something new was no simple feat. Enter Camille Friend, an oscar nominated third-generation hairstylist. She is a staple in the industry with hair credits like Dreamgirls(2006), The Help, and both Black Panthers, and she was exactly the woman for the job. We sat down and talked to her about how exactly she was able to create this look.

Okay, great. For The Little Mermaid, you were the personal hair stylist and designer for Halle Bailey in this movie. What exactly did your role entail?

Camille: Disney called me and asked me to meet with Halle. To talk to her and her family, and see what I could come up with for the look. So I went and I met with Halle and really got a sense of who she was. And she wanted to stay natural. That’s who she is. That’s who her family is. So I was like, I get it. And I said I think I can do it. Then talking to Rob Marshall, Marc Platt, and Disney. Really finding out what they wanted, and how they imagined Halle would look. Rob Marshall, one of his big things is he wanted to see the hair move. The hair had to be in the water you had to see this dance, you have to see the hair flow.

Can you go into the process of creating this new look for Halle’s Ariel?

Camille: When I first got in they definitely thought we’ll just wig her. And I was like…we could try, but I’m just going, to be honest Halle has waist-length locs. And for a wig like…where do you put them? Because when you’re doing a wig, you’re really trying to mimic the head shape. So you want to make the head shape as small as possible. When you have locs, it doesn’t enable you to make the wig the head shape very, very small. So we tried some wigs. And that was something that really didn’t work. So I was like, what can we do? 

I just started thinking about what’s the colour gonna be? First, let’s go from there. What I do with any character with any actor is I start looking at a couple of things, their facial shape, their eye colour, their skin tone, the undertone of their skin. So like looking at all those components. I had coloured like 10 colour samples. We found, you know, a really more golden, beautiful orange-orangey red would be more beautiful on Halle. And so then from there, we have like a base colour, a middle colour, and then a lighter colour all in those tones of red. 

Then how can we alter her locs? How can we alter them without cutting them off? Because that was a conversation too. I didn’t want to cut her locs off. So how can we do that? I thought if we wrap the locs in these beautiful colours. And I used what I call my secret weapon. Her name is Helene, and she owns a company called extensions plus in Chatsworth, California. They do beautiful, beautiful work. She’s somebody that I use all the time. I started playing with and wrapping the hair around Halle’s locs. And we did colour her own hair a little bit because it needs to look like it’s growing out of her head. And then wrapping her hair and we had put some of the loose hair in.

At first I only did a little and then Rob saw it and he was like, can you put more I was like yeah! I’ll probably say we probably had at least 25 or 30 pieces of added-in hair. We would add some high, some mid, and add some low. That’s the whole thing, you want to see that hair moving. You want to have it where it looks natural like the leaves on a tree.  We got it really filled up with beautiful loose hair I call it a boho goddess look. So that’s how it came about.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, directed by Rob Marshall. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Yeah, it’s gorgeous. Honestly, I love the colour. Did you think about how an actual mermaid with locs would look in order to achieve that look?

Camille: No, not at all. I didn’t even think in those terms. was just thinking about how it’s going to look on Halle. We did extensive testing in the water, on land, in the wind. So all of these looks as we were evolving in this process, we would just keep going like we would do a test and we’d be like, Okay, this might not have been successful but this wasl. So every test that we did, we were gaining more knowledge to get us to the Ariel that you saw on camera.

That’s great. With Halle being known for her locs and Ariel being known for this red hair, was it a lot of pressure to take these two hair icons and create an entirely new look?

Camille: I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. This is what I do. You know I’ve done very iconic movies. So this is my wheelhouse. This is where I play. This is where I feel comfortable. I’m a filmmaker, a designer, a hairstylist. I’m a third-generation hairstylist. I think the pressure was I just wanted to get it right.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, directed by Rob Marshall. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Yeah, that makes sense. I heard the actors wore skullcaps underwater so that the hair could be added on afterward in CGI. Were you involved in that process in any way?

Camille: I mean, it was it’s a little of both. You have some time that was skullcap and some that was not. The CGI process was something that we started on literally on day zero, you know, sometimes on movies, they don’t think about it till along the way. But this movie day zero we were thinking about it.

I had great interaction with the visual effects department. I built them a wig that looked like Halle’s hair, so they had something to look at visually and to play with. Rob Marshall provided me with his editor Wyatt, Wyatt’s a fabulous editor! l Wyatt actually cut the movie. So I would know where she was going to be, whether we were doing live-action or CGI. I actually knew the cuts. I’ve never had that. That was huge!

That’s great for designing because you actually know where they’re going to be. A lot of times as the hair/ makeup person, as we’re doing films, we know that we’re filming them, but we don’t know where they’re going to be inserting things. To really have that whole blueprint of the movie in front of you on day zero was quite impressive and quite helpful.

Image via @/hallebailey on Instagram

Yeah, that makes sense. You spoke about the day-to-day, a lot of times Black actors don’t really get a lot of love and care behind the scenes when it comes to hair. But with Halle being the lead and the hair being so important how was that different in this movie?

Camille: You know all of my movies, Black actors get treated very well. I treat all actors well, but it’s something that’s in my heart. I feel like everybody should have equal treatment. Disney wanted to make sure that Halle was in a comfortable place. Because she’s on camera every day. And people don’t even know it’s singing, it’s dancing, it’s acting, it’s being on wires, it’s swimming. That’s five jobs in this movie, you don’t usually have to do that much in one movie. There were many hats that she had to wear. So surrounding her with a team that was loving, kind, and nurturing to her spirit was important to them.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Yeah, I definitely understand that. Halle is the first black live-action Disney princess, and also the first Disney princess with locs. We’ve talked about why it was so important for her to keep her natural hair. What do you think the impact will be, especially for kids to see a Disney princess with these beautiful locs?

Camille: What I love about what I get to do is in Black Panther how we showed black culture, in Black Panther 2, we got to show Latin culture. Now we’re here, and we get to see black culture in a different way in a magical character. Hopefully, as a society, the more we see movies like this there’s more acceptance, there’s more love, there’s more community. I just hope that people have all of those things.

Especially from some of the responses when the first trailer came out, there was an over-pouring of love which was beautiful. Black girls get to see themselves on camera, and that’s what we want to do is empower all these young girls. That’s what we truly hope. That’s who Ariel is she’s a girl who it was figuring out who she is. I’ve seen Halle’s whole journey in this and when we first started she was a young lady. Now, she’s a lady. I saw her grow up in the process, which is beautiful.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, directed by Rob Marshall. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

That’s amazing. What were some difficulties with this heavy hair and the iconic hair flip? We all saw it in the trailer, I saw Halle say that she almost broke her neck. What were some of the difficulties with that hair flip?

Camille: The thing about it is when our hair is wet, you know, Halle doesn’t even weigh that much. So when you’re taking your hair and flinging it back like she could fling her whole body! So she did a lot of practice. The underwater divers, all the people in the water, and Stunt really helped. I was like, girl, you gonna have to have a strong neck! But she knew the assignment, baby. And she showed up for it. She did what she needed to do.

With the hair being heavy and wet hair sometimes were there difficulties to make that look still beautiful and magical?

Camille: I think with the wet hair, it’s a matter of manpower. So I’m gonna hand that hat off to Tiffany Williams. Tiffany was the one who was on set with Halle a lot. I did the front part of the movie, and then we had COVID. When they came back up, I was already involved in something else. So I couldn’t come back more than once. But Tiffany Williams was there with her every day. That’s what people forget the maintenance of the hair all day long is what hair and makeup do best. Tiffany was there with her combing, adding conditioner, and doing all of those things in between to make the hair look really beautiful dry or wet.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, directed by Rob Marshall. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With this being an underwater musical, no one’s filmed anything like this. What’s something that people may not know that you had to do because of the way it was being filmed?

Camille: A lot of times when she’s in the water, when you see her hair, if it’s literally her hair, we would sew her locs in certain ways with monofilament. That’s a very clear thin thread, so the camera doesn’t detect it. Because the filmmakers don’t want to see the hair go in your face, this is the money shot. So sewing the hair in the right direction, so the hair would stand and move the way it needed to move for the camera. That’s some of the tricks that behind the scenes we did so it looks a certain way, but still moves the way that we want it to.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

That’s something I would never know wow. I realized when I was watching the little seashells in Halle’s hair when she’s on land. What may audiences not realize on the first watch? What are some other things that we may not see on the first watch?

Camille: It’s funny because some people saw the seashells there’s a lot of Easter eggs. There are shells, coins, and beads. There’s a little real Jade piece. I found these beautiful jade beads, and she has an aquamarine bead in there that was really, really beautiful. I love the color and how it transcended in the light. So all of those little things are all sewn in here into the ends of her hair. 

Wow, I only noticed the seashells I’ll have to look when I see it again. I know, you talked about the conditioning for the day-to-day upkeep, aside from that and a dinglehopper what other products and tools were used to maintain this look day to day?

Camille: As far as product, we didn’t use a ton of product with all the hair that we were using, the less product is better. We used some unite seven-second conditioner, and some edge control and things like that on a day to day, but not an exuberant amount of product.

Yeah, that makes sense. I know you worked on both Black Panthers the first one and Wakanda Forever. So many Black people showed up for that movie, I saw it at least twice, in a way that people really don’t show up for movies. We’re seeing it again with The Little Mermaid. Why do you think we as black people get so excited about these films, especially with you having worked on all of them?

Camille: Black Panther is, for me, the gift that keeps giving. The first one was great. The second one, having the Oscar nomination for myself that’s a dream come true. I think people are having the opportunity to go and see these cultural movies, especially black people, where we are more than the average person. Where we are kings, queens, and mermaids. To know that you can be more than you think you can be. We have the opportunity through film to show people that we are multifaceted and intelligent people.

Yeah, no, that’s a really great point. A lot of black women, have a complicated relationship with our hair. Specifically with our hair and water. Swim caps often aren’t made for us, chlorine is very drying, we have these hairstyles that take so much time and they can get ruined so quickly by water. People try to use this to embarrass us. Do you think that us seeing this movie with a black mermaid in this water with this beautiful hair will empower us?

Camille: I hope it empowers us. I’m gonna say this, the only people who can shame us about our hair is ourselves. If we love ourselves and our hair no matter what condition it’s in. If it’s natural, straight, if you have locs, braids, etc.  You can’t shame me if I don’t allow you to. If I don’t accept that, then you cannot shame me.

We have to rise above society’s standard of beauty and be who we are. And we are beautiful creatures. I was raised in Arizona, and I’ve been in the pool since I was a baby. So I don’t care about getting in the pool and getting my hair wet all day long. You just have to take certain precautions. I’ll tell you a hair tip before I get into the water, I always wet my hair, and I put conditioner on my hair before getting into the pool. It allows your hair not to absorb so much chlorine. There are locs swim caps and braid swim caps, and cute swim caps that look like turbans now they’re on Amazon. So there are no more excuses. Live your life, and be free. Don’t be scared. That’s all I have to say.

Great advice. I love that. You are a staple in the hair community with your many credits like Dream Girls, both Black Panthers, like you said you’re Oscar-nominated, and now the Little Mermaid. Do you have any plans as to what you want to do next?

Camille: Well, I got some things going on. I can’t really talk about one of them right now. I can’t, really. But one of my biggest things is working on my business, which is my educational company Hair Scholars.

Hair Scholars is for me to give back to people. To teach people how to be in the business and what are the things you need to know. Last night I had one of my final classes we talked about how to make your deal. I teach people how to make your deal because you need to know where your money’s coming from. How to ask for the money, how to get everything that you should in your deal, or if you’re going to get screwed. All the life experience that I’ve had in this business and travelling the world, I pass it on to people now. Hair Scholars, it allows me to do that.

It’s a blessing to me to nurture the next generation coming up. I’ll be 55 next month, and I have enough hours to retire. I worked that much. But I still have such a zest for this. As these movies continue to grow, and we evolve, I find myself in a very special place where I can work on cultural movies. And make sure that all of us are represented in a beautiful cultural way no matter what your culture is. I want to be the hairstylist who makes sure that every head that comes out of that trailer represents their culture in a proper way. I want to be a keeper of people’s culture and what’s right in film on the hair side.

Camille Friend via StyleIcons

That’s fantastic. if you have anything really quick that you want to say to people who want to have the kind of career that you’re having any advice?

Camille: I just say this to people, when you get into the business, know your craft. Know how to work with all different skin tones and how to work with all different hair textures. Know how to cut, colour, how to do extensions, know how to do a little bit of all of it. I think that has been a recipe for success for me is my vast knowledge of how different things work and different hair. So no matter who sits in my chair in my experience and my wisdom, I can get them to wherever they want to be.

Want to read more from Sydney? Check out their review of The Little Mermaid here!

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