Annual Hair Wars attracts stylists, fans from all over

Mekeisha Madden Toby, Special to The Detroit News

David Humphries is feeling a little nostalgic.

The Hair Wars founder is preparing for the show’s 32nd incarnation, which takes place Sunday at Dearborn’s Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, and he can’t help but reflect on how far the event has expanded and how it now attracts stylists and fans from all over the world. Each year has an original theme and the 2017 motif is “Exotic Hair Night.”

A model shows off a Keith Matthews creation during the Detroit Hair Wars fashion show in 2016 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

“I never thought it would be like this, but it happened,” said Humphries, who started out as a DJ and a party promoter. Back in 1985, he saw a need in the hair industry and created a successful and enduring solution.

“Hairstylists would come to my parties, but they had no platform to really show off and show their work,” he said. “I let them do it at my parties and it took off from there.”

This weekend’s production features 200-plus models and two-dozen stylists. “Exotic Hair Night” was the theme of the first show Humphries, aka Hump the Grinder, put on. By returning to the concept, he says he hopes this year’s show will spotlight how much the hair business and Hair Wars have evolved.

“When I say ‘exotic,’ I want people to think of far away places like the tropics. You know, something we don’t see everyday,” Humphries, 60, said. “And I’m hoping that’s something the stylists play up with the hair and clothes and that people in the audience take advantage, too.”

A lot of audience members, some of whom are also stylists, bring the themes to life and have even been known to outshine the hair entertainers onstage. That’s what stylist Adonnus Terrell wants to do.

Terrell, 32, participated in Hair Wars two years ago and is looking forward to sparking interest in his work with the help of a few models on the sidelines this time around. After doing the show in 2015, Terrell’s work was profiled in Black Passion magazine.

“This is the biggest outlet we have as hair stylists in Detroit,” said Terrell, a Detroit native who works at Directions Salon downtown. “Hair Wars lets us be as creative as we want to be, and I highly recommend it for stylists who are trying to make a name for themselves. Hump really showcases us and the connections you make are incredible.”

Hair designer Keith Matthews does some final prep work backstage during the Detroit Hair Wars show in 2016.

Now that audience participation from Terrell and others has reached an apex, Humphries is tapping into the movement and even encourages cosplay.

“It allows the audience to be a part of the sideshow at the show,” he said. “I went to a Cosplay Convention last year for the first time and I was fascinated. They’re a different kind of people doing their thing, and they don’t care what people think about them and that’s the heart of Hair Wars — it’s something a little different from the norm.”

This year’s show will also pay tribute to local television legend Nat Morris, who hosted “The Scene,” as well as a handful of dancers from the show. “The Scene” aired on WGPR-TV from 1975-1987.

“ ‘The Scene’ has always been a part of me because it’s a part of Detroit and because of the music, ” said Humphries, who used to DJ for “The Scene.” “I was the first mixer. Nat Morris invited me to do some mixes for the dancers because mixing at the time had just come out. I worked with them for a couple of years before I started bringing other DJs on.”

The Hair Wars tribute will allow Morris to promote an upcoming reunion for “The Scene,” which is taking place in July. Humphries also is saluting the work of Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree, who has helped a number of Detroiters avoid property tax foreclosures.

“A lot of home and business owners are attending, so I’m using Hair Wars as a way to remind them to stay on top of their taxes,” Humphries said. “Knowledge is power, so why not use Hair Wars to inform and entertain?”

Humphries beat prostate cancer last year and he said more than anything, Hair Wars is a celebration of life and all the things that make us unique.

“Hair Wars is my baby,” Humphries said. “I’m old-school Detroit, and so is the show but for the new generation.”

Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV and entertainment writer.

This model’s hair was styled by Donell Danny Davis 3-D.

2017 Detroit Hair Wars ‘Exotic Hair Night’

6:05 p.m. Sunday

Ford Community and Performing Arts Center

15801 Michigan, Dearborn

$20 advance tickets; $40-$100 VIP

(313) 534-8318