Around The Way Girl: Deborah “Dee” Desalu


“…if this is the level of success I have reached at this age, then I think I did a pretty decent job!” And we would have to agree with 25-year-old Dee Desalu. In just a short amount of time Dee has accomplished so much and is making a name for herself as a celebrity hairstylist with gigs such as VH1’s Love and Hip Hop and the BET Awards, to name a few. As a young girl born in Lagos, Nigeria Dee has had a passion for hair since the age of 12 and has been hustling in Chicago and around the world way ever since. Literally.

How did you get started in hair?

Well I came to America when I was two. I went back to Nigeria for boarding school my seventh grade year. The hairdresser there was the only girl who liked me at the school [laughs]. She was really sweet and we got really cool. She started to show me all of the tricks and Nigerian trends, like different braiding, and how cool they made it look is what caught my attention. So my eighth grade year I took what I learned to the states and became the neighborhood hair girl.

After eighth grade I went to high school then went to cosmetology school, as opposed to college, at Pivot Point International…but got kicked out for fighting in Italy [laughs]. Pivot Point takes these international trips every year to study abroad and ironically me and the only black girl ended up getting into it. I don’t know, she was just a spoiled brat and I couldn’t stand her. They had put us in the same room…I guess they felt that it was best to put the only two black girls in the same room.

From there I finished the rest of my schooling at Lena Bryant Beauty Academy in Chicago.


Were you that girl who was charging everybody an arm and a leg to get their hair done?

No, actually it was the polar opposite! Eight grade year I started charging ten bucks! Girl, I remember when I raised my prices it was a milestone for me from ten to twenty-five bucks. I was so proud of myself [laughs].

Could you list some of the many high profile clients you work/have worked with?

Oh wow! Various people actually…Teyana Taylor, Wendy Raquel from The Game…I’ve worked with a vast majority of the Love and Hip Hop girls. I’m actually on staff for Love and Hip Hop right now in L.A. working with the Hollywood cast. I’ve kinda worked all over. I had a couple WNBA clients that played for the N.Y. Liberty and the L.A. Sparks. But everybody is a star to me as long as they’re paying!


How did you land these big gigs for someone who is only 25?

Honestly, I think it was just the special grace of God because there is no real easy way to success. It was just trial and error, stepping out with faith and taking it upon myself to invest in my dreams. You know? I didn’t go the salon route, like everyone kinda goes the salon route after finishing school. I just hopped on a plane and went straight to New York in 2010 and took it upon myself to reach out to different photographers and start a portfolio. At the end of the day, any type of job requires some type of experience. Clients want to know what you are capable of and I wanted to show them as opposed to explaining myself and my portfolio is what kinda kicked it off. During that time of building my portfolio is when I started to network with people within the same industry and God just placed all the right people into my hands. True started from the bottom!

Dee at the BET Awards Glam Carpet

Why did you decide to go independent instead of the salon route?

I actually tried going to a hair salon but either everybody was charging a high booth rent or like a big chunk of commission and I was like, that’s not right! I paid for this education. I need to be making all my money. The bigger picture was like, make a lot of money so I could give back to Nigeria and start something similar to Pivot Point out there. That was the bigger goal so I guess my heart was not in being stuck at one salon.

As a fellow African, I know how strict African parents can be when it comes to your career. How supportive were your parents towards your dream?

Oh my God! If it’s not medical, finance, or law they don’t wanna hear it! If it’s not any of the mentioned careers then it’s not considered to be a lucrative career amongst Africans. My mom wasn’t that supportive. She was a bit confused. At first she was like, “Are you serious?!” And I was like, “Yesss, MOM!” She didn’t start supporting me until I started booking international clients. A few of my WNBA clients flew me to Russia and I started doing the entire basketball team’s hair there. The EuroLeague basically. That’s when my mom started respecting the business side of it. Other than the music industry, fashion is a big industry that you can make a lot of money from, whether it be makeup, hair, styling or design. You just really have to get out there and make a name for yourself. Now my family is starting to understand!

dee2What would you say are some of the challenges of being a first generation American with foreign parents?

Nigerians are very conservative. They are not really into the arts. That’s kinda different for them. So it was just an issue of trying to find my niche and what I really wanted to do. It wasn’t until I went back to Nigeria that I really figured it out.

What does your day look like when you’re on set?

My days vary. It can get pretty intense depending on what they’re shooting or what is on the styling notes. Like right now I’m working on Love and Hip Hop: Hollywood where I would get on set at 8:00 a.m. and won’t see my bed until 2:00 a.m. the next day. Some days are pretty short where it would be a do-and-go where I’m not required to stay on set. My job is not really a typical nine-to-five, it’s when my eyes open and when my eyes close. When production pays for it, I style the confessionals and such where they are looking glammed up, but when [the cast] wants side stuff done like extensions or a quick dye job, then they come out of pocket. So I do it all. I don’t turn down any coins! [laughs]

dee8Do you have any free time for a social life?

Yes, I have time. Working freelance you have a lot of off days. Sometimes you’ll have a great year filled with gigs and sometimes there will be some months with no gigs. That’s why I like to keep a lifestyle clientele base in Chicago for my off seasons. For the most part, it’s not that difficult.

Is this what you envisioned yourself doing at this age?

Yes, but I actually thought I would be doing all of this in Nigeria! I’ve always envisioned myself being successful, so if this is the level of success I have reached at this age, then I think I did a pretty decent job! I really didn’t think it would happen this fast because some people are in this industry for years and have never experienced working on sets, but I guess that’s just as far as where you wanna take your career.

Dee styled the cast of TV One’s “Hollywood Divas”

What advice would you give to any girl who wants a career in celebrity hairstyling?

Just having patience and be faithful… and believe in yourself because this industry will have you questioning yourself. You just have to keep your game face on and stay positive, and the success will be yours.

Where would you like to see the future of your career?

I definitely would like to be a brand ambassador or a creative director. Or even own my own international cosmetology school similar to the program I was in, first in Nigeria and then branch off to other countries. I really look up to Guido Palau a lot. He’s the creative director over at L’Oreal Professional and Redken. He also does all of Fashion Week, like the major shows like Alexander McQueen, Dolce and Gabbana and Versace. He is the key hairstylist. He creates the looks for that season on the runway. So all of the runway hair you see from the designers, they consult with him for their vision.


What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Patience! I’m still learning that with my 25-year-old self! But yeah, if God wants it to be, then it will be.

Do you miss Chicago?

Not really! I’m there every other month. What I do miss is Nigeria!

What is your favorite thing about Chicago?

You have the best of worlds here: there is the suburban life, the city and the beach. If you know your way around and connect with the right people you can really enjoy Chicago for what it is. What I do wish is for Chicago to start embracing its own. People only love you once you leave! Look at Kanye! Look at Oprah!

You can catch more of Dee’s power moves and fly styles on her instagram account @deedesalu and contact her for your next hair appointment



{Know an Around The Way Girl we need to to get in touch with? Let us know in the comment section below!}

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