When mischievous Liberian-American stylist Telfar Clemens attended the Met Gala in 2019, it was Latisha Chung who created the studded wig, giving it the look of a siren from a silent movie. In March, when Rosalia, the experimental Spanish pop star, appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Ms. Chung prepared a sleek and modern flamenco hairstyle. for Her picture is on the cover of the September issue of VogueIn announcing her retirement, Lady Chung gave Serena Williams honey-colored locks, like Botticelli’s Venus.
Ms. Chung, the innovative and energetic hairstylist who created looks for fashion stars like Mr. Clemens, athletes like Mrs. Williams and actors like Tracy Ellis Ross – as well as the stars of “The Real Housewives of the Potomac” – passed away on July 19 in Manhattan. She was 32 years old.
Her death in hospital was not widely reported at the time. Her sister Avisha Chung said the cause was metastatic breast cancer.
The cute one was part of the critic Antoine Sargent called the new black avant-garde” Gabriella Kareva JohnsonVogue’s contributing editor, who produced Ms. Williams’ photography, said in a phone interview. (Mrs Kareva-Johnson was in this group, too; she was the first black editor to design a cover for Vogue when she put Paloma Caesar’s modela full-figure black woman, on the cover of the January 2021 issue of the magazine—and asked Ms. Chung to style her hair.)
“She was one of the dealers behind fashion images – editors, photographers, stylists, makeup artists – who are expanding the visual landscape to include people who have always been at the forefront of style and taste but have been rejected by the modern day canon,” Ms Karefa-Johnson continued. “It’s a pan-African model, where many of us from the diaspora are investigating and questioning our blackness in an industry so white as fashion.”
She added that Ms. Chung was the best in the field. She can do extraordinary things with hair, from gravity-defying geometric shapes to more natural styles, often working with lace front wigs – the go-to tiara for many black women – bleaching, coloring and plucking these natural hair creations on their own are a subtle vision.
Ms. Chong, a former Air Force pilot, grew up watching her mother, a hairdresser, and others run marathons on weekends at local salons in Brooklyn’s Flatbush area that largely catered to Caribbean clients.
“Black hair is a family thing in our area,” said Avicha Chung. “Everyone comes to the salons on Saturday, and you learn to take care of the hair but also the soul. Latisha picked that up quickly.”
Latisha Simone Chung was born on January 23, 1990, in San Fernando, a city in Trinidad and Tobago, one of three daughters of Garrick Chung, who worked in construction, and Darlene Vincent, who was a housewife at the time. When Latisha was six, she and her sisters moved with their mother, who had been separated from their father, to Flatbush, where she worked as a home health aide and, on weekends, as a hairdresser. At the age of ten, Latisha was helping out in a salon, cleaning the floors; She finally made her way.
Ms. Chung was 19 when she joined the Air Force, a move that surprised her family. Virginia Miller, who served with her in Charleston, said she rose to the rank of senior pilot, working in hospitality in Charleston, before being deployed in 2011 to Qatar, where she volunteered on a special mission to help the army dismantle missiles.
When she returned, Ms. Chong was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma. She left the service with honors medical leave in 2014. In 2017, she graduated from Charleston Southern University, a Christian school, where she studied biology.
In addition to her sister Avisha, Mrs. Chong is survived by her son Malachi Chong; another sister, Tenisha Chong; and her parents.
Ms. Chung returned to New York City after college and began making a comeback in design. She worked for Michelle Jones, whose Brooklyn-based Thee salon is ground zero for pixie cuts and other African beauty staples. Mr. Clemens was a family friend, and I started working on his hair as well. (They loved watching The Real Housewives do it, and had a particular fondness for the ladies of Atlanta and the Potomac.)
Before long, Ms. Chung was the hair director at Mr. Clemens People’s Company – His Telfar bags are known as “Bushwick Perkins” and come with the slogan “It’s not for you. It’s for everyone.” When Mr. Clemens Appeared on the cover of TIME magazine In March of 2021 as one of the “Next 100” of the year, it was Ms. Chung who designed his trademark braids. In 2019, when he presented his unisex collection of disjointed haute couture streetwear in Milan and Paris with an army of models, friends and family, she was responsible for their eclectic looks. When she outfitted the Liberian team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she styled the athletes’ hair. And in 2021, when he collaborated with shoe company Ugg and Beloved Housewives invited the Potomac to a fashion showShe styled their hair, too.
“There has been every milestone that I have made,” said Mr. Clemens, one of the most sought-after designers in the world of fashion in recent years. “I did everyone’s hair, not just the models. When my mom and aunt showed up, she would do them too. I did it because it would make everyone feel better.”
The cover of Serena Williams’ Vogue, which captured a star in a focal point, will be Ms. Chung’s last job. Mrs. Kareva-Johnson imagined Mrs. Williams undergoing baptism on the beach at the ocean’s edge. She chose her production team carefully, and it was important that Ms. Chung be among them.
“I needed a team that believed Serena belonged on the cover of Vogue and understood the beauty and hair of lions,” she said. “Especially the hair. It had to be Latisha.”
But after years of remission, Ms. Chong’s cancer is back again. By May she was in a wheelchair. Her family did not want her to travel to Florida, where filming was scheduled for May 19, because she was too weak. However, she was a designer, and worked for weeks before that, finding the right wigs for Mrs. Williams and spent hours customizing them with the right shape and color.
Her assistant, Tav Kennard, accompanied her to Florida, and together they worked out Mrs. Williams’ grooming, carefully braiding Mrs. Williams’ hair into tufts of corn to prep him for the wig, and took their time to do so; Mrs. Chong was usually very sensitive. Mrs. Kareva Johnson began to panic: a thunderstorm was on their way.
Finally, Ms. Chung was finished. Mrs. Williams went ashore, and Mr. Kennard picked Mrs. Chung up and placed her on the director’s chair. Photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez begins shooting as Ms. Williams, the train billowing from her sky-blue Balenciaga gown in the arms of her daughter Olympia, moves gracefully at the water’s edge.
When the wind blew and Mrs. Williams turned in that direction, Mrs. Chung, with Mr. Kennard at her elbow, straightened her flowing hair so that it was just right.
“Freelance entrepreneur. Communicator. Gamer. Explorer. Pop culture practitioner.”