Jillian Hervey joins bold names such as Gisele, Selena Gomez, and Zooey Deschanel as a brand ambassador for Pantene. (Photo: Courtesy of Pantene)
When you think of a Pantene ad, a model with long, straight hair likely comes to mind — but the brand’s newest face is about to change that.
Jillian Hervey, the 27-year-old daughter of actress Vanessa Williams and member of the neo-soul group Lion Babe, was announced today as the iconic hair brand’s newest brand ambassador.
Her mane of lush, natural curls is a departure from Pantene’s traditional campaign heritage and signals a significant, and welcome, expansion in the way a mainstream hair brand speaks to American women today.
Yahoo Beauty sat down with Hervey at the London NYC to discuss everything from how being raised in an affluent, white community shaped her relationship with her hair to what she plans to do with her platform as an influential young voice today.
Yahoo Beauty: What have been some of your hair struggles — as a child and even today?
Jillian Hervey: I think the main struggle was being naive about how to treat it and what to do with it. I grew up in a very predominantly white neighborhood and had long, sleek, straight hair as a reference point of what I saw all the time. It’s what I tried to achieve as a way to fit in. I had no idea how to handle my curls. I was using products and techniques that I was learning from friends who had very different hair from me.
Did that make you feel different, or an outsider?
Yes, I always felt like an outsider — though for many different reasons. But mainly, I didn’t know if I would be accepted if I wore my hair the way it naturally was. It took me a long time to figure that all out, and to learn how to own my hair.
Jillian Hervey in a promo shot for her music group, Lion Babe. (Photo: Courtesy of instagram.com/lionbabe)
How did you feel growing up, looking at hair ads that mostly featured women with straight hair?
I felt confused and out of place; I never identified with those women in hair ads. It made me feel less confident, because it sent the message that — if this is the desirable trait to have: straight, smooth hair — I didn’t have that. And for a while, that’s all I wanted. However, having all of these powerful women in my family, and going to the hair salon — which is such an important part of the African American cultural experience, and really to other cultures as well — I was able to see women who had my kind of hair, and to see that there was a whole other world of women I wasn’t necessarily seeing in media. It was very comforting.
You have a famously talented and beautiful mom, Vanessa Williams. Did she pass any hair secrets on to you?
She always had my sister and I sleep on silk pillowcases, so it would be gentler on our hair. She taught us to braid or wrap our hair at night and tie a scarf over it, so that it stays tame. My older sister was always into taking care of her hair, but I was a tomboy growing up, so I didn’t always wrap — but the silk pillowcases really helped in that case, so that my hair wouldn’t get knotted or break off.
I think anytime with your mom, whether she’s famous or not, you’re watching what she’s doing when you’re growing up. She also taught me the basics: Make sure you use a good moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, and then use a detangler to comb through your hair. And don’t overdo the heat styling.
Have you ever had a hair disaster?
Once I learned that some hydrating oil or cream was good for my hair, I thought I should use a lot. So I poured practically a bottle on my head once and learned real fast that more isn’t always better. I was so greasy, and it ruined my texture!
You’ve said that an African safari trip was the turning point when you truly embraced your natural hair texture. What happened?
I’ve always been an animal lover, and I was in college and going through that period of time where you’re beginning to find yourself. In light of this, my mom decided to arrange an African safari trip for the family, and it gave me time to think about who I was, and what I wanted to do in the world.
One day on the safari, we closely approached three lionesses sleeping. One woke up and looked right into my eyes. Something about her spirit and lioness aura really resonated with me. It was exactly the message I was looking for about how to carry myself. I think the way that lionesses are — majestic, strong, yet super protective of their family and bloodline — it affected me, and ever since then, I’ve never been able to shake off lions. I’m obsessed; I love looking at pictures, watching videos of them. Ever since then, lions are my spirit animal.
And it’s the name of your band, Lion Babe.
Yes, and my hair, which I wear like a lion’s mane, has practically become another member of the band!
Photo: Courtesy of instagram.com/lionbabe
What does becoming the face of an iconic hair brand like Pantene mean to you, as a young black woman?
It’s surreal. When you grow up thinking that you would never put yourself in that circle of belonging — to become the face of such an influential hair brand and what hundreds of thousands of people turn to for hair care — to me, it means that my hair journey has manifested into something really great.
What advice do you have for women who don’t like their hair?
Identify what specifically it is about your hair that you don’t like. For me, when I was younger, I didn’t like my hair because I didn’t know how to relate to it, or care for it. I was scared of what it would mean to really embrace it. Once you understand what the issue is, and then tackle it, it’s amazing how you can feel really comfortable in your skin. Challenge yourself to look into what your hair means as it relates to your history, look to other women who have hair like yours, and find the beauty and connection that you share.
Do you have any hair icons?
I love the disco-glam divas from the 1960s and 1970s! Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer — even Cher, she gets wild. I also love George Clinton and Sly Stone. They’re all people whose hair made them seem so fun, free, and artistic. They embraced their look, wore whatever they wanted, and inspired so many other people by just being who they are.
Photo: Courtesy of instagram.com/lionbabe
What’s your favorite way to wear your hair?
My go-to style is just wearing it down, wild, and free. I love Medusa as a reference because my hair can take on a life of its own. I always keep it moisturized. And I’ll sometimes tighten the curl with a tightening iron and then finger-piece it apart for even more volume and finish with hair spray to lock it in. I don’t use heat every day because it can be very damaging to curly hair, so I limit that.
What’s your favorite Pantene product?
I love the Moisture Renewal Shampoo and Conditioner and the 3 Minute Miracle Moisture Renewal Deep Conditioner. You should always have a really good hydrating shampoo and conditioner for curly hair. And the transformation from those three minutes with the deep conditioner is actually visible — I feel like I went to the salon and got an hour-long treatment! I love that I can get those results at home or when I’m on the road really easily.
What’s your favorite workout, and how do you deal with sweating with your hair?
I’m a dancer, and I always love dancing to workout. I’ll just put on music and dance, or take a dance class. Sometimes I’ll switch it up with yoga or Pilates videos at home or in my hotel room.
When you wear your hair naturally curly, sweating actually adds more curl and texture. Look at Tina Turner! She’s always working it out on stage, and her hair only gets more crazy and wild and bigger as her show goes on. I love that! Sometimes I’ll just spray some detangler after class and brush through to freshen up, or you can even wet it a bit and sleek it back with conditioner.
What’s your usual breakfast?
I love a cup of black or herbal tea. And then I’ll do eggs and toast with avocado or turkey bacon. I also love oatmeal and fruit.
Tell us more about your music group, Lion Babe.
What’s really special is that we have both young and old fans! It’s soul music mixed with some hip-hop, pop, alternative. It’s very much reflective of my personality and of growing up with so many cultural influences in New York.
We’re going on our first headline tour that will start in July at Essence Festival — and I’ll be doing a beauty talk as well there. You can find the schedule at TeamLionBabe.com. We’re so excited to share our music on tour and connect with fans.