Michelle Obama’s hairdresser, Yene Damtew, on creating Michelle’s inauguration look

Michelle and Barack Obama at the Inauguration
Most of us will not soon forget the slayage we were presented with when Michelle O graced the Inauguration on January 20th. Michelle was sporting a black face mask and a plum Sergio Hudson monochrome pants suit and she had her hair styled in soft flipped waves ala 1980s Farrah Fawcett. In fact, I couldn’t quite put my finger on who Michelle reminded me of that day. Kaiser said she looked like a plum Avenger and I agree. But then it finally hit me, Michelle looked just like Regina King in HBOs Watchmen. Basically, Michelle showed up looking like a damn superheroine. Folks have been diving into what Michelle was wearing that day and creating faux looks for their daughters. Other than the details of Michelle’s outfit, many Black women wanted to also know who was behind Michelle’s iconic hairdo. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Michelle’s hair stylist, Yene Damtew, shared her secret to Michelle’s Inauguration blowout and explained how she became Michelle’s primary hair stylist in 2017. Below are a few excerpts and you can watch the video below.

On her approach to Michelle’s inauguration look
I like to understand the complete look. The factor for me was ‘this needs to last the whole day.’ The weather was questionable.

She did a curl set using vertical sections
You curl the hair and immediately before the curl falls or drops you pin it. After we took the curl set down [I did a blow out].

I am overwhelmed [and] overjoyed at the positive response.

On her family’s reaction to her career
It’s definitely hard growing up as a child of Ethiopian American immigrants. Being a creative isn’t really a respected field. Everyone has their own journey. For me it was to complete cosmetology school, start a business and then go back and get my bachelor’s degree.

In 2009 I started working with Mrs. Obama through my mentor, Johnny Wright, who was my mentor at the time. In 2017 I took over as her primary hairstylist.

Her favorite hair looks
The ones that were special were the looks on the book tour. And I was extremely proud of her second term in office, I colored her hair for the DNC.

[Another favorite was the] Essence Magazine cover when she first wore her hair curly. Another favorite was the book cover because it was the everyday look that we all could relate to.

[From Access Hollywood on YouTube]

I love Yene’s story about being the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants and how being a hair stylist is not respected in her community. I guess Yene showed them. Now she is known for laying the first Black First Lady of the USA’s hair. Yene is definitely an example of what happens when you block out the noise of society and family and follow your own dreams. I have a feeling that Michelle Obama will not be Yene’s only high profile client after the great job she did at the Inauguration and continues to do. My favorite style she has done so far is Michelle’s curly hair because it was so fitting on her. And who doesn’t love Mrs. Obama with her natural hair out? Yene is also a prime example of the importance of having trained Black hair stylists and makeup artists available for Black talent.

I look forward to seeing what else is next for Michelle and Yene. Especially now that Michelle will be starring in her own educational kids show, Waffles and Mochi for Netflix, which will share food from around the world while encouraging kids to eat healthy food. Waffles and Mochi will be released March 16. I am sure this series will give us many opportunities to see Yene’s magic because I know Michelle is gonna look fire alongside these puppets!

Watch the full interview here:




Biden Sworn-in as 46th President of the United States

Photos credit: Avalon.red and Adam Rose/Netflix

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12 Responses to “Michelle Obama’s hairdresser, Yene Damtew, on creating Michelle’s inauguration look”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    Everything about that look was instantly iconic, and I’m glad that the people responsible for it, like Yene Damtew, are getting the recognition they deserve.

  2. Esmom says:

    Amazing ladies, what a duo. I’m excited for Yene and wishing her much continued success. And Michelle’s new show looks like the cutest thing ever.

  3. Betsy says:

    I think it was on her instagram too that she, rather classily, said that this was a model’s head because she takes her clients’ security very seriously, but if you wanted hair that looked like Mrs. Obama’s this would be the way to do it.

    • Lemons says:

      I’m going to check out that instagram video. If I have a free day to set aside for my hair, I’m trying this!

  4. anniefannie says:

    My favorite look of Michelle’s ( we’re besties in my head so I can call her that) was at the last WH correspondents dinner, her hair was wildly curly and she looked luminous. She has gorgeous hair to begin with so I’d imagine she’s a dream client….

  5. dawnchild says:

    Michelle’s a beautiful woman (I especially love her hands), but it’s still a pale reflection of the inner beauty and authenticity that shines through in her words. So very inspiring in a public figure! I hope she has a good and long life.
    Unsurprisingly, she attracts other good people to her.

  6. Sid says:

    I can really relate to what Ms. Damtew said regarding her family and her career path. My parents are West African, and they and their siblings generally have the same view as Ms. Damtew’s family with regard to their children working in creative fields. So a lot of us are in “white collar” professions, while being actors, spoken-word artists, painters, and writers on the side. We even have a cousin who left chemical engineering to become a pro makeup artist. Congrats to Ms. Damtew and everything she achieved!

  7. Ulrika says:

    That video was so relaxing to watch and it’s so kind of her to share the styling tips! About her family and community’s response to her career, let’s show some empathy and remember that their response is because of capitalism and white supremacy. I’m Middle Eastern and we’re pushed into careers where we can make stable incomes and have ‘respectable’ status jobs because of the fear of being trapped in poverty and racism. It’s similar across other immigrant groups. In any case, I’m really happy for her!

  8. Truthiness says:

    I’m really glad to hear the styling team get credit for an amazing job. Michelle looked perfect!

  9. Katie says:

    I’m almost 40 (ack!) and I’m super excited for Waffles and Mochi!

    I mean I have kids, so I’ll make them learn from the best too, but still, I’m excited for it all on my own!

  10. Watson says:

    I fully understand her comments about immigrants. So many of our parents fear the poverty and struggle they had to endure so becoming white collar is the only choice that’s supported. Good for her for sticking to her guns and becoming famous for her talents! Immigrants get the job done!