Carrington is a Georgia housewife who spends her weekends browsing housewares at Z Gallerie and speaking intently into her Android phone. She is casual in demeanor but rigid in appearance, as evidenced by her hair — an architecturally perfect brunette bob, with elements of blonde for balance and dimension. Olivia is the executive chairwoman of the board of trustees of some company that is both charitable and economically formidable. It enjoyed 6,055 percent growth last fiscal year under her auburn lob and commanding presence. Her colorist flecked her highlights with gold to flatter her complexion and serve as an understated finance metaphor. Pocahontas is a princess, daughter of Powhatan, jewel of the Tsenacommacah, savior of men, and star of her own eponymous Disney film, with twin cascading tresses that part down the center of her head.
Porsha is an entrepreneur, cohost of a nightly television pop-culture program, and a Real Housewife of Atlanta. Her hair is whatever she wants it to be; the aforementioned women are all personas of wigs Porsha Williams owns, maintains, and wears on occasion, letting their personalities infuse her own. Carrington, Olivia, and Pocahontas are three of about 40, although when I spoke with Williams, she made this seem like a lowball estimate. Most live together in a room in Williams’s home appointed specifically for hosting them, but some more live in her master bathroom and drawers, and a few camp out in her car. Everywhere you turn, every cabinet you open, there is an opportunity to discover a head of human hair. It’s like a fabulous house of horrors.
Williams lives an hour or so outside Atlanta, in a sleepy golf community monitored by security. Her home is brick on the outside and sheepskin on the inside — every single surface that is not marble or polished pewter invites napping. It features Georgian sunlight filtered through two-story Georgian windows and a sofa so big you cannot bend your legs while sitting on it. It also features the aforementioned wig room, which throws human hair into the texture mix. In it, you’ll find lobs, Afros, waves, and curls on curls, in every color of the natural rainbow. Williams discusses her wigs with the technicality of a mechanical engineer. “This is an ash blonde,” she says, “with a structured beach wave.” Structured, she says, because a regular beach wave might read as too frizzy; these waves slope and curl to perfection and are designed for running your fingers through. It is engineered for frivolity. Hair is Williams’s passion as well as her business — Go Naked Hair sells unprocessed human hair that can be used for any variety of weave- or wigmaking, and she’s launching her own hair atelier later this year.
Williams started wearing partial weaves during her high school dance-team years but didn’t experiment with full wigs until season four of Real Housewives. Her fascination has blossomed into an addiction: This past January 1, in honor of the New Year, Williams resolved to stop buying so many wigs. (It did not work — she bought one for this shoot.) Occasionally Williams ditches the term “wig” for the more esoteric “unit.” This, she says, is a more appropriate word as wigmaking becomes more sophisticated. The process of making a unit is kind of like building a Honda, only more complex: Williams starts by sourcing the hair herself (always human, always “virgin,” i.e., untreated) from one of her multiple suppliers, choosing with the style in mind. “If I want a short wig, I’ll still do long hair because I want it to be thick,” she says of her method. Then she passes the hair to her couturier of wigmakers, who, with Porsha, will select a specific shade of lace to match her skin tone (or tint it, if necessary) and painstakingly affix the hair.
Does it need color? This is where that happens, at the hands of a professional, just before the lace is affixed. It then passes to a stylist, who cuts it just so, according to the geometry of Williams’s features. After that, it goes into the wig room, where it enjoys a lifetime of spa-quality comfort in between sporadic TV appearances. The upkeep of a top-shelf unit is almost identical to caring for the hair on your head — it requires cleaning, conditioning, and styling, which in turn requires Williams to be both a television personality and a 41-headed serpent queen. Luckily for all of us, she has help. “When my assistant got hired, he didn’t think that half of his job would be maintaining my babies,” she says. During routine “cycles,” her assistant photographs each wig and Williams appraises them, like a drag mother. The ones that need new cuts or colors are carted off to her hairdresser. The ones that pass inspection, the perennial styles, like Carrington and Pocahontas, return to the room they share with their sisters.
Williams is the first to tell you that her obsession is frivolous and financially consuming. But it’s also rooted in a sense of adventure and possibility — the kind that comes from adopting a different personality on a whim. She started her business and became interested in wearing hair after her divorce, when she was experiencing an injury to her self-esteem and found that tapping into different archetypes of her personality (fierce Porsha, fun Porsha, blonde-lob Porsha) helped her fall back in love with regular Porsha.