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'Emperor of Hair' Elgin Charles Embraces His Sexuality with New Memoir

by Steve Duffy
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday May 31, 2018

Elgin Charles, known the world over as the "Emperor of Hair," has been the proprietor of his upscale beauty salon in the heart of Beverly Hills for more than 25 years. The Texas native came to his profession in a roundabout way: Walking away from a highly successful career in finance at Smith Barney in his early 20s to pursue being a hairstylist.

Over the years he developed a celebrity clientele that included Joan Collins, Diahann Carroll, Drew Barrymore, Serena Williams, Gabrielle Union, and Joy Behar. He has also used his background in biology and chemistry to develop a signature line of luxury hair care products that foster the needs of those with varying styles and types of hair. And he published his beauty credo in the best-selling book, "Believe It, Conceive It, Achieve It."

A performer as well, Elgin has appeared in Chris Rock's critically-acclaimed documentary "Good Hair," the Style Network's "Split Ends," and countless talk shows, including "Oprah," "The View," "The Talk," and "Wendy Williams." He has even starred in his own top-rated VH1 docuseries, "Beverly Hills Fabulous."

In his new memoir, "By the Way," Elgin is ready to embrace his sexuality as a bisexual man.

EDGE: Why the memoir now?

Elgin Charles: Mostly, because I feel that I have lived a full life and I am ready to share my life experiences. For so long I hid who I was, and after my father passed away I knew that I had to be true to myself.

EDGE: You talk about a lot of topics in the book. Is there a story you won't tell?

Elgin Charles: I tell all of it! The first four chapters is about my experiential stage. I moved to LA to find myself. One day, I met a young man at a bank and we had a relationship. It was great. For me, writing this book helped me to look at my life and start accepting your past while looking toward the future.

EDGE: Tell us about your fascination with hairstyling...

Elgin Charles: I can't really remember. I think from the womb. I do recall always playing with my mom's hair and the hair on Barbie dolls. My aunt Honey was the one who always let me practice on her hair. The better I got I started doing my siblings hair and then people in my neighborhood. At that time, I did not respect it as a career. I did many other jobs before actually making it my career. I hit the glass ceiling in my corporation job and didn't see any continued growth. My mom told me to do hair, so I did.

EDGE: How did you become celebrity hairstylist?

Elgin Charles: That was always part of the plan when I went to beauty school. I wanted to work in Hollywood for television or movies. One of my first jobs as a hairstylist was for a salon on Melrose Ave. There I learned how to work on white people's hair along with all different kinds of hair texture. Still, my favorite is making African-American hair behave. I still have the same excitement about doing hair as I was younger. I love creating new looks and making people feel beautiful.

EDGE: Who was your first celebrity client?

Elgin Charles: Holly Robinson Peete, but since Natalie Cole took me under her wing and I traveled with her as her hairstylist, I will give her the credit as my first.

EDGE: Why bring up your sexuality in the book? Was it a secret until now?

Elgin Charles: Good question. Today's world is so different than the one I grew up in. Growing up, I always had relationships with women. It was not until I moved to LA that I started experimenting with men, which lead to having relationships with men for seven years. Then I stopped cold turkey and went into the ministry. I wanted to know why and to understand these cravings. I needed to understand why I was going through this. In all of this, l learned I should not be ashamed of who I am. Most importantly, I learned that I needed to be honest with myself, my family and friends.

EDGE: Does being black and bisexual come with extra obstacles?

Elgin Charles: Oh yes! Look back in history, being black was an issue, and especially if you were gay too. That definitely was not accepted in society. Today there is more education about identity, tolerance and acceptance, so hopefully this will help. I hope that telling my story will help just not in the black community, but in all communities.

EDGE: Why can't we talk about homophobia in the black community?

Elgin Charles: It's our faith in the Bible and to many it's an abomination. No one is brave enough to talk about it. Also, it's about keeping respect on street. The fear is that you may be treated differently in the community. My story addresses all these issues: Being a husband, father, hairstylist, community leader, and church leader. The way to make changes is to just talk.

EDGE: What is this summer's sexiest cut for men?

Elgin Charles: I love a great crop cut with lots of volume on top. Keeping your hair tight and clean is always the way to go.

EDGE: What message do you want to readers to take away from your memoir?

Elgin Charles: I want the reader to know that I am a man unashamed of the journey I have taken in my life. I pray that they can also relate to my story and hope that they will be able to understand their own story. Always accept others no matter where they come from. Love everyone! We are all on the same journey.

For more information about Elgin and his new book, "By The Way: A Memoir," visit his website.


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