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The Southern Glam of 'P-Valley' Has Always Told a Story

The Southern Glam of 'P-Valley' Has Always Told a Story Image
  • Posted on 27th Jul, 2022 19:47 PM

The hair and makeup artists behind the hit series share the inspiration behind the characters' standout looks.

When you enter the world of Pussy Valley, you’re immersed in a distinct visual experience. Layer upon layer of carefully constructed significance twinkle underneath the Delta Noir lights, and that includes the glam of each character in the fictional Mississippi town of Chucalissa.

“The colorful lace fronts, the edge-controlled baby hairs, the acrylic talons, and tattoos were directly inspired by the glam choices of real dancers, and is a major reason why the show feels so authentic,” series creator and acclaimed playwright Katori Hall tells BAZAAR.com. “Every region has its styles, and I’ve loved incorporating my favorite hairstyles and fashions from my childhood into the show. We call it ‘Chucalissa chic,’ these unique blends of the old and the new.”

Makeup is a storyteller and a playground for self-expression, explains P-Valley makeup department head J. Denelle, who oversaw facial makeup, tattoo art, grills, prosthetics/special effects gore, and nail art on the show’s second season. “The beautiful part of makeup is you can choose each day how you want to show up and what your standard of beauty is,” Denelle says.

For Arlene Martin, who helmed the candy factory-esque array of lace front units and all things hair for Season 2, the impact hair can have on a performer’s self-esteem and focus isn’t a power she takes lightly. “To be able to have an actor come in my chair and make sure that the hair matches the character, and then to see their eyes light up and see the character come alive while doing their hair, that brings me so much joy,” Martin says.

Beauty is always an integral part of setting the stage on all shows. But on P-Valley, it helps the audience enter the world. “When Keyshawn accidentally burns her stepsister’s top ponytail off, Laronica cuts off the seared top ponytail, transforming it into a marcel curled short crop with long hair in the back,” Hall says, referencing Episode 5’s flashback to Keyshawn’s high school experience. “In the ’90s, this hairstyle was so popular in Black beauty shops down south, and it’s been great to make allusions to our own hair history in the more contemporary world of the show. These are folx with flair who embrace a kind of theatricality in their looks. They throw it back and step it forward all at the same damn time.”

Ahead, Denelle and Martin guide us through the ways makeup and hair serve as an important storytelling device, a window into the emotional worlds of the characters, and an empowering tool for the characters to control how they present in various situations and environments during Season 2.

Uncle Clifford

The way the dynamic, 40-year-old Big Bawse of The Pynk strip club adorns her face and body feels like a beautiful assertion of her humanity and self-expression, one that boldly says, “You may not understand this fabulousness, but I’ll be damned if I don’t celebrate it loudly and freely, day after day.” Naturally, the nonconformity at the heart of Uncle Clifford’s essence shines through her glam.

“It’s important for her not to have restrictions,” Denelle says of the character. The looks are deeply rooted in honoring her authenticity, Denelle continues, so if she wants to push the envelope at 10 a.m. and sport rhinestones to feel like she can conquer the day, that’s exactly how she’ll show up. This also means lots of liner; playing with glitter, highlights, and reflective tones on the skin; a custom diamond tooth cap; and a rotating mix of sharp flourishes on her beard.”


And nails! As we saw in Season 1, Uncle Clifford was a regular at the nail salon pre-pandemic. She wears gel, acrylics, and the new Gel-X technique, Denelle says. “She loves to get a Russian manicure, something to keep her natural nails safe and healthy.” Curated, long, custom press-ons with designer embellishments, diamonds, metallics, and Swarovski crystals are all favorites for Uncle Clifford.

J Denelle

Actor Nicco Annan, who has breathed life into the character of Uncle Clifford since the 2015 stage iteration of P-Valley (known then as Pussy Valley), has also helped tell Uncle Clifford’s story from a makeup standpoint—from voicing an aversion to nose contouring on the character in favor of celebrating her natural Black femininity to bringing a touch of ’90s glam à la Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill. Think: an abundance of brown and gold tones, and natural glam looks that still crackle and pop with that Chucalissa flavor.

Arlene Martin

P-Valley’s regular odes to the rich histories and cultural practices within Black culture, a special element of the series since its debut, extend to the characters’ hair too. “We did such a variety of styles on Uncle Clifford this season,” Martin says. “Box braids to the doobie wraps from back in the day in New York, down to the finger waves from Detroit, just different nods to African American culture. And then it’s intermingled with the fairy tales and the fantasies of what’s going on in the strip club as well.”


Mercedes is the OG dancer and Uncle Clifford’s right hand at The Pynk. She can suss out a big spender from a poser in a heartbeat, and she exemplifies an inspiring level of strength through her willingness to dust herself off and keep moving forward, no matter how often or hard she falls.

“She knows that she’s all that and a bag of chips,” Martin says of the comfort Mercedes has with her physical self. “She doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks, and on top of that, she knows her worth and she knows what she’s capable of.” That confidence is present whether she has wine-red wet and wavy tresses cascading down her back under the mood-setting club lights, or an array of off-duty natural and protective styles—like partial cornrows with a voluminous Afro puff, a bonnet when she’s relaxing and watching TV on the couch with Hailey, and short cornrows donned in the midst of a sweaty construction project.

J Denelle
J Denelle

“We definitely wanted to connect Mercedes with the normalcy of everyday people, and that’s where the cornrows and taking off the wig [in some scenes] came in,” Martin says of the intention to reflect familiar Black hair habits through the characters. We also get to see ’Cedes explore a new avenue of sex work and step into her version of a more upscale-chic look. This takes form by wearing a long sandy-brown unit, and swapping the body glitter, colorful eye shadow, and rhinestone-lined lids she rocks at The Pynk for a more muted brown smoky eye, strong highlight, and nude lip.

“You really get to see that juxtaposition between grit and glitter,” Denelle says of how Mercedes’s emotional journey is represented through her makeup. “She shows up to the world as the woman who made some questionable decisions but she’s trying to stay strong. You see her looking strong, you see her looking fierce and sweaty, and getting the job done—fighting for her gym, fighting for her daughter—then you see her glam up and put a mask on, so to speak.”

There’s also a whole lot of meaning when you see Mercedes sport a berry lip. “She’s a nude-lip girl for the most part, but you’ll see her transition to colored lips and deeper berry tones, and that’s more of an homage to her mom, Pastor Woodbine, who is always in a berry lip,” Denelle says. It’s a nod to those disconcerting wait-a-minute moments where you start to see elements of your mom or family in yourself, especially elements you’re not fond of.

Keyshawn, a.k.a. Miss Mississippi

Keyshawn is a star in the midst of discovering and reclaiming her power. In Season 2, we see Mississippi go on tour with Lil Murda (the bestie duo we never knew we needed, amirite?!), step into being even more of an entrepreneur, and fight for her freedom in an abusive relationship. Many in her orbit underestimate her, but underneath the doe-eyed Barbie facade exists a sharp, loving, tenacious fighter.

“Miss Mississippi has always shown up in the P-Valley world with a mask on,” Denelle says, citing the disconnect between her exterior beauty and the ugliness of her abusive home life. This season, it’s even harder because she’s stuck in the house with her lover and her abuser, Denelle continues, a devastating reality many survivors were forced to navigate during the COVID-19 quarantine.

As a Black woman who has enamored legions of people in person and virtually while dancing, and who’s also been on the receiving end of colorism and misogynoir since childhood, Keyshawn is keenly aware of how beauty and desirability function as forms of currency in society. We see her grapple with people doubting her due to her looks and profession in new ways, as well as wield her beauty and being underestimated as armor and a resource to care for herself and her family.

J Denelle

“Her color stories are in the pinks and the purples, because it’s the Barbie doll of it all, it’s the fairy tale of, ‘I can still have a beautiful life and be perfect.’ I think that’s kinda what she leans on, more of that doll look. That’s how she gets out of things with Derrick,” Denelle says.

This season, that takes form with a gradient of pinks and princess blues that often coordinate with her wardrobe and hair. There is also heightened soft glam that leans toward the ethereal, like sparkly face jewels, an array of glossy brown and baby pink lips with dark liner, defined lashes, and intricate eye makeup assisted by colorful P. Louise paint primers and color story palettes, reflective metallics by Karla Cosmetics, Lemonhead Spacecase glitters, and heaps of rhinestones that accent Mississippi’s eyes when she’s in the zone during pole performances.

J Denelle

On the hair end, we get to experience a rainbow of lace fronts—Key lime green, platinum blonde, bubblegum pink—thanks to Mississippi going on the Dirty Dozen tour. “You have her pandemic hair at home, which is basically pulled back in a ponytail and scruffy; then you have her glamorous at-home look during the pandemic, where she’s on her phone trying to record different things to set up her business; and then, the glam on tour,” Martin says, noting that we can expect to see more facets of Mississippi translated through her hair.

“She’s being pulled in a lot of different directions by men, but it’s like, ‘What do you, Mississippi, want to do?’” Martin continues. “It’s so relatable—you see so many beautiful people on Instagram and Facebook, but their lives are so messed up and it’s like, when they turn that camera off, then it’s back to hell, basically. When you look at Mississippi, you see this beautiful dove and this beautiful person, and you don’t know what’s going on behind that camera.”

Autumn Night, a.k.a. Hailey, a.k.a. Lakeisha Savage

Autumn Night, sounding all poetic and shit, is the femme fatale who drops into the lives of Chucalissa residents from seemingly nowhere. Glimpses of Hailey’s life before arriving at The Pynk emerge here and there—though rarely expressed with words and beyond the comfort of her solitude—grief, trauma, and longing abound in her inner world.

“Autumn Night Lakeisha Hailey Savage is a savage, and she is completely a boss this season,” Denelle says of the character’s arc shining through her outer appearance. This means whites, deep plums, and reds reminiscent of Rihanna’s Loud era on Hailey in Season 2. “She pulled a lot of Rihanna makeup looks, because Rihanna is a boss, she’s a savage.”

J Denelle

For Hailey, this also means more smoky eyes, extended liners, and makeup that flows between sultry vixen and casual-chic boss lady. We see her assert her new ownership position in lots of two-piece sets and looks topped with blazers, and long sleek bobs. “It’s the same wig, but she’ll dress it up a little for Andre,” Martin says, underscoring the subtle extra effort Hailey puts into her glam when seeing the person she has feelings for. “It’s always a soft, flowy look with her—and when she’s in The Pynk, you’ll see her with a very straight or very light wave.”

“She’s actually still processing so many things—she’s processing the death of her baby, the death of her ex. I think even though she is in love with Andre, she’s still putting on a mask and is still in self-preservation mode,” Denelle says. “It’s all about her and a little bit selfish, because she has so many traumas.”

We see Hailey’s more vulnerable moments come through her outer appearance when she’s alone and barefaced, and in a natural state in the house with Mercedes during quarantine—hair undone, cursing, and engrossed in her favorite scene from What’s Love Got to Do with It for the umpteenth time.

In the world of P-Valley, meaning is everywhere—the music, the lighting, the hair, the makeup. The visual voice of the show reminds us when it comes to how we engage with our exterior appearances—the time and effort, or lack thereof, applied to a face of makeup, a hairstyle, an extra adornment—has always run deeper than what appears on the surface.

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