Jessi Dean, the Chicago hair stylist making moves in film

by Danielle Sanders, Interim Managing Editor, Chicago Defender

Chicago native Jessi Dean believes that the “proof is in the hair” and offers a full range of hair care solutions, including custom wigs, hairpieces, and extensions through the Jessi Dean Human Hair Extension brand. Twenty years of experience coupled with a highly developed sense of style, color, and form has garnered Jessi a loyal customer base and a budding career as Department head for major film and television productions including MGM’s ‘Candyman’ produced by Jordan Peele, FOX’s ‘Next,’ Netflix’s ‘Beats,’ and CBS’ ‘The Red Line.’ Jessi’s has also styled hair for HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country,’ Showtime’s ‘The Chi,’ ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and FOX’s ‘The Big Leap.’ Coming up, Jessi’s work can be seen in Starz’s ‘Power Book IV: Force’ and Apple TV+’s ‘The Shining Girls,’ starring Phillipa Soo and Elisabeth Moss

The Chicago Native is an experienced professional that has been designing hair for over 20 years. Jessi Dean is a member of Local 476 and an alumnus of both the Pivot Point and Dudley Cosmetology schools. Currently, her work can be seen in the Universal Pictures’ Jordan Peele film, Candyman. She is a creative who is passionate about hair and spoke with the Chicago Defender about her experience working as the department head for a major motion picture.

Chicago Defender: What got you interested in doing hair, and when did you know it was something you wanted to do as a career?

Jessi Dean: I think I was born loving hair. From the time that I was young, I was that little girl cutting up the hair on my dolls and styling them. So I always knew I wanted to be a hairstylist. I went to college knowing that and left after my first year because I spent more time in the dorm doing hair for the ladies on campus instead of going to class.

I was earning a living working out of the dorm room.

Jessi Dean Candyman Chicago Defender
Chicago Native, hairstylist, Jessi Dean

Chicago Defender: Did you always have a desire to get into hair design for film, music, and television? How were you able to break into this industry?

Jessi Dean: Absolutely. I always wanted to work in the entertainment industry, but I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t have the resources, just a dream, and a vision. It was about networking and putting yourself in a position. I pursued people I met who advised me to contact local unions; then, I started working at a salon called AJs because I heard the owner was a celebrity stylist. He worked in the capacity and field I wanted to work in.

He became a mentor and would offer opportunities to take jobs he couldn’t take. The rest is history.

Chicago Defender: You are the department chair for hair in the new film, Candyman. In watching the movie, the women have beautiful natural hairstyles. What was the creative process for you? How did you determine how you wanted the hairstyles to be in the film?

Jessi Dean: It’s really art imitating life. For example, take the character Brianna (played by Teyonah Paris). She’s a curator, an artist, a creative. I felt her hair would reflect an extension of her personality. She would be a woman who would wear her natural hair in versatile ways. For Candyman, most of the looks involved natural hair. I’ve worked with natural hair the majority of my career, so it comes naturally to me.  I really loved Teyonah’s looks. Her hairstyles really allowed me to show the versatility of natural hair.

Working with Vanessa E. Williams in creating the look for her character, Anne-Marie McCoy, was also a great experience. Since her character was in the original film, we wanted to show her journey from then to now in her hair. She remained true to who she was in the original movie, and I loved capturing that creatively. I wanted the hairstyles to be beautiful and effortless, just like so many women in real life.

Chicago Defender: You used real jewelry and transformed it into hair jewelry for some of Brianna’s (Teyonah Parris) looks?

Jessi Dean: Yes, For Teyonah, I created hair accessories from jewelry to give her natural hair a different look. I also created a pinup style for her to show a more elegant look as well. As a creative character, I thought she would be the type of woman who would do something like that to make her hair more unique and original. It’s all about versatility. I love working with different textures of hair and creating personalities and characters through my styles.

Chicago Defender: Natural hair is big now. What advice would you give women who want to go natural or women who are already natural about taking care of and maintaining their hair?

Jessi Dean: So many women complain about their texture of curl pattern, but you can’t fight it. Learn what works for your hair, curl pattern, and texture. Don’t compare your texture to someone else’s. I think that’s where frustration can come in.

Work with what you have and be the most beautiful version of yourself.

Chicago Defender: You’ve worked as a stylist for over 20 years. What do you love most about it?

Jessi Dean: I love expressing my creativity through hair, but more importantly, whether I’m styling a celebrity or a client, the most rewarding part for me is making women feel good about how they look. That pays me more than anything.

Chicago Defender: As a department head for the film in charge of hair, what is that process like?

Jessi Dean: It’s my role to create characters through their hairstyles. This requires having a team that researches as it pertains to the script. Then, I imagine the vision, and our team comes together to execute it. Even outside of the hair department, I loved working with everyone on the film. The entire process was so inspiring. I was honored to be part of this team.

Everyone is constantly feeding off of one another creatively. That’s the inspiring part; watching every department do their thing. I often call it the ultimate team. All of these components, departments, etc., come together to make this one special film. You understand that you cannot just be reliant on your craft, but you have to take in all of the expertise on set.

To watch it all unfold makes me want to step up my game constantly.

Chicago Defender: You are born and raised in Chicago. What does it feel like to work on a film set in your hometown?

Jessi Dean: This is a surreal moment for me in my career, from growing up in the projects to now living my dream working as a head stylist on the Candyman film. Working in my hometown on this film has been a full-circle moment I’m thankful for and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

Jessi Dean is currently working on Power Book IV and the upcoming series, The Shining Girls. Find her on social media @HairbyJessiDean

Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Jordan Peele, is currently playing in theatres now. In its opening weekend, Candyman grossed over $20million, making Nia DaCosta the first black female director to top the box office charts. The remake of the 1992 cult classic picks up where the first film left off in a now gentrified Cabrini Green. The film stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Teyonah Paris, Colman Domingo, and Vanessa E. Williams

Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20 and @DanieSandersOfficial.


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