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The Man Who Styles Michelle Obama's Hair

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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

Johnny Wright met Michelle Obama two years ago, not long after Barack Obama announced his quest for the White House. The hairstylist, then popular in Chicago's Wicker Park area, was called in for an Essence magazine photo shoot -- not that he had to do much with the candidate's wife's hair, he says. Wright and Obama quickly hit it off.

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Fortunately for Wright, the Obamas may have moved from Chicago, but they believe in staying true to their roots.

Two months into the Obama administration, Wright has become the first lady's exclusive First Hairstylist, the White House confirmed this week.

"It's exciting, absolutely, doing the first lady's hair," Wright says carefully of the highly competitive gig, over lemon-drop martinis at a National Harbor restaurant. "She's a great lady and I feel privileged to do her hair."

Any juicy details, Mr. Wright? Is she natural or does she relax? Does she color? Is that really her hair? Wright stays mum, then turns to comment on the restaurant's wallpaper color.

As it turns out, being the First Hairstylist requires not only special talent with a blow dryer and flat-iron. One also must have a fierce commitment to discretion.

Dozens of hairdressers lobbied for the role. Seemingly anyone who ever had hands in Michelle Obama's hair gave media interviews about the position. There was speculation about this person who used to do her hair, or that person who is a local styling legend. One stylist even exploited the frenzy by peddling a product on the Internet that he claimed to have used on Obama.

Wright gave interviews when the Obamas were on the campaign trail, but since she became first lady, he has effectively taken a vow of secrecy.

During the campaign, Wright, 31, was called in periodically to style Obama for such important events as the Democratic National Convention in Denver, he says, including the day she gave her speech. And more recently, he says he was called in for her photo session for the much-noted March cover of Vogue magazine.

Since that Essence shoot two years ago, Wright had moved on to the Frederick Fekkai Salon on Melrose Place in West Hollywood. In January, he says, he was notified that Obama wanted him as her exclusive stylist. He says he had become her official stylist by the time he coiffed her for the official White House portrait, in which she smiles exquisitely from beneath a perfect modified bob wearing a designer "little black dress" and double strands of pearls.

"She did look beautiful, didn't she?" Wright says rhetorically. He speaks so warmly of her, a listener must ask: Are they friends?

He won't answer directly, but he offers that they've "done lunch."


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