My hair has its own personality. I feel like it should have its own Instagram.

I’ve always loved Afros. I’ve been obsessed with the 70s. It was a great decade for women and especially Black women to accept and really be proud and loud about all those things that were not seen as beautiful. Today, the Afro is very trendy. But before, it was such an act of resistance and love and expression.

I was inspired by the women of my country (Cameroon) for sure. Diana Ross and Donna Summer were my icons. Big hair; beautiful, colorful clothes. Everything was loud, but not in a cheesy way.

When I moved to New York from Montreal, there were two things I wanted to do: the Afro, and a little gold around my eyes. That was Nelly becoming Nelly as we know her. I was able to be whoever I wanted to be.

My hair is like a crown. There’s something empowering, regal about it. I used to be very shy, and when I wore that crown and walked into the room, it protected me and gave me strength. It helped me conquer. I’m still very shy, although people wouldn’t know it. My hair is like my armor. I feel like a goddess with it.

“I feel like it should have its own Instagram.” Photograph by Christos Katsiaouni.

People recognize me because of my hair. And they don’t recognize me without it. If I do braids or a straight weave, people will come up to me and ask, “Is Nelly here?” And I’m like, “Nelly is, but not the hair. I will let the hair know that you’re missing it.”

People respond to my hair differently nowadays. When I used to travel 20, 25 years ago, I would get stopped going through customs. “Let me look in your suitcase,” they’d say. Now, they say, “Oh, I love your hair!” There’s a whole conversation.

Full disclosure: I do put some extra hair in there to make it extremely thick. It needs a lot of care, a lot of moisturizing. There’s an amazing woman in Harlem that I go to, Ms. P.—her name is Paula. She’s the mayor of Harlem and takes care of everyone. I love going there. She takes forever, and I only have time now to go there once a week. But there is so much love. She nurtures my hair and my soul.

I feel like I’m ready for a change soon, like going outside of what Nelly is for a second. I could do some braids with some blonde in it. The coolness of Black hair is we can do so much with it, like cornrows, or threads in the hair. Sometimes I miss the days when I was able to do all those different styles I grew up with.

Nelly Moudime is the maître d’ at the Polo Bar and a former maître d’ at Minetta Tavern and the original Pastis