Oct 26, 2014

Comer Cottrell & the Do-it-yourself Jheri Curl

Earlier this month Comer Coltrell passed away. His legacy? Creating the Curly Kit, a do-it-yourself Jheri curl kit.

The Jheri curl, a permanent for African-American hair developed by the hairdresser and chemist Jheri Redding, was at the height of its popularity in the late 1970s, but it required spending tons of money going to the hair salon, buying the moisturizing products, and getting touch-ups. At $8 a box, the Curly Kit was a winner. Forbes magazine in 1981 called the Curly Kit “the biggest single product ever to hit the black cosmetics market.”

Comer Cottrell started Pro-Line Corporation in 1970 but it didn't find success until his 1980 over-the-counter product hit the market. “We looked at the curl process,” Cottrell told the Dallas Observer in 1996, “and saw it really was a simple process and people could do it themselves. It was no secret.”

Comer Cottrell, right, confers with adman Jerry Metcalf in 1977.  Los Angeles Times 

But like so many fashion trends, the success of the Jheri curl (and its derivatives) would not endure. By the mid-1980s, amidst complaints of it staining clothing and furniture and rumors that it caused Michael Jackson's hair to catch on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial in 1984, it became easy fodder for jokes and comedians.

Comer Cottrell passed on October 3rd.

For related reading, check out Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana Byrd and Lori L. Tharps.

Bonus: Michael Jackson getting his hair styled for the cover of Thriller (1982).

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