Question: what do Amanda Seyfried, Zoe Kravitz, FKA Twigs, Kim Kardashian and Clara Amfo have in common? Celebrity status, obvs, but also something more tonsorial – all of them have had their hair braided in some manner over past few months. Plaits – whether long and flowing, as seen on Kravitz and Amfo, or intricate and tight to the scalp – are becoming so popular that Harvey Nichols’ latest beauty pop up is not the usual blowdry salon or a manicurist’s lounge but a bar devoted to braiding.
It’s run by Keash, the braiding service set up last year by school friends Taiba Akhuetie, 25 and Jessy Linton, 24. Akhuetie learned how to braid from her mum, who is Nigerian. “I have been having my hair braided since I can remember,” she says. “There are so many Afro-Caribbean salons around London and you don’t really see other ethnicities getting their hair done. This pushed me to try to get other people to embrace a part of my culture.” The pair have created a bite-sized menu designed to “appeal to everyone,” she adds. Sure enough, at Harvey Nichols, the crowd was ethnically diverse, and ranged in age from a two-year-old to a green-haired 60-year-old.
All done for under £30 in less than 30 minutes, braids are a nifty business idea – like a blowdry bar for braiding reminiscent of similar start-ups such as the nail art supremos Wah and dip-dye specialists Bleach. Subtitled “two girls, one comb”, and with a Ja’mie: Private School Girl reference in the name, Keash has the kind of insider cool that can turn into cold hard cash.
The duo put the current vogue for braiding down to “the whole 90s trend,” says Linton “with people like Aliyah, TLC, Gwen Stefani. They’re all on our reference boards.” Using Dutch plaits – more chunky than the standard french style – Linton’s and Akluetie’s menu shows these influences but looks modern, too. It ranges from the coiled Sarah (think Rihanna on the front of i-D) to Zarina (v. FKA), Ella (Stefani) and Rose, a bit of a braiding-with-the-training-wheels-on, with braids along the hairline but the rest of it left hanging down.
It’s this that I go for when the duo – Akluetie in an Opening Ceremony T-shirt, Linton in purple nails and Air Max 95s – offer to braid my hair, possibly because I have previous with braiding. I did this once before, about 10 years ago, when I had my whole head plaited. I wanted it to look like Bo Derek in 10. The result was more like that episode of Friends – the one where Monica gets her hair braided. Not good, and frizzy within a day. This time, however, things are much less disastrous.
In fact, braiding, in the Keash way, is a great alternative to a blowdry. It’s not going to last long – I reckon, at a push, around three days – but it’s great if you want a bit of a look for a night out. That said, the lifespan of braids can be increased by getting creative. I got another day out of mine by putting the rest of my hair in pigtails. Hey presto, a whole new do – braiding on braid. How meta.
As for styling, earrings are out – with a lot happening on the top of your head, best to keep the ear action to a minimum. Glasses can be tricky, too. And a bit of messiness goes a long way. Akhuetie is keen to stress that the plaits shouldn’t look too neat, for fear of channelling rapper Riff Raff. Sure enough, once they have loosened a bit, they’re much more flattering. But the best thing, perhaps, is that several friends ask me if I have just got back from a sunny break. This is more to do with the fact that braiding is what Kim Kardashian does with her hair on her holidays than me looking tanned and rested – but I’ll take it.