How Ursula Stephen Aced All Of Zendaya’s ‘Challengers’ Premiere Hair Looks

Justin Tallis / Getty Images

To no surprise, Zendaya has won over fans with her grand-slamming glam for each Challengers (2024) premiere leading up to today’s nationwide release. Dyeing her hair honey blonde, the actress inaugurated her new romantic sports film– in which she leads as tennis star-turned-coach “Tashi”– with smashing updos, viral tennis braids, and ‘70s bouffants. 

“One of the things I love the most about working with Zendaya is the challenge,” celebrity hairstylist Ursula Stephen tells ESSENCE. Hitting off the looks with a tight arsenal of hair care, Stephen champions the actress’ play into hair health with low heat styles. “I’m always finding alternative ways to create these super fabulous red carpet and editorial looks while using the right products.” 

Game, set, match! Stephen breaks down all of Zendaya’s Challengers tour beauty moments below.

The “Old Money Updo”: Sydney, March 26

How Zendaya Aced Her ‘Challengers’ Premiere Hair Looks
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 26: Zendaya attends the Australian premiere of “Challengers” at the State Theatre on March 26, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James Gourley/Getty Images)

The first stop of Zendaya’s press tour left her taking a new blonde bob for a spin around the court. “We wanted an old money feel,” Stephen says. Referencing the million dollar tennis clubs in old Hollywood mansions, her fashion stylist Law Roach “wanted it to feel like she pulled [her hair] up herself.” As if she just walked off the court, racket dragging in hand, Zendaya turned her perky bob into a feathered updo, paired with her ball-serving Loewe gown, at the State Theatre. 

After a shampoo and condition, Stephen prepped her hair with the SexyHair Heat Protection Blow Dry Primer before blowing it out. “Once the hair was blown out, I added velcro rollers to each section for added volume,” she says. “After the hair was set, I removed the rollers and brushed out the hair to soften the look,” hence the feathered flyaway details. She then added volume with The Hair Shop 18-inch Skinny Clip-Ins around the head, teasing her brown roots before gathering the hair into a low bun and securing the look with both hair ties and pins. 

“To finish, I styled the bangs and left them down to frame the face for an effortless look,” locking it in with Big SexyHair Spray And Play Volumizing Hairspray

The “Bombshell Blowout”: Paris, April 6

How Zendaya Aced Her ‘Challengers’ Premiere Hair Looks
PARIS, FRANCE – APRIL 06: Zendaya attends the “Challengers” Paris Premiere at UGC Normandie on April 06, 2024 in Paris, France. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

Off to Paris, Zendaya hit the city for the second time in two months (the first, for her Dune: Part II premiere) and third time this year. But this go round, she showed off three looks in a single day. First, an old French money look with a white headband worn with a Louis Vuitton by Marc Jacobs checkerboard overcoat. Then, reviving her flipped bob with a teased bang. She ended the night at UGC Normandie with a bombshell blowout paired with Bulgari diamonds.

For that final look, Stephen pulled out the SexyHair Healthy Smooth Stunner Blowout Crème, blow drying the actress’ hair straight for a silky finish. From nape to temple, she then added clip-in extensions from The Hair Shop to add length to her bob. “The Hair Shop has the best color match to enhance Zendaya’s new blonde look,” she says, which looked like a Sandy Blonde (#840). After applying heat protectant, Stephen went in section by section spraying Big Sexy Stay Intense Hold Hairspray before curling the hair with a large barrel iron. 

“Since we were going for a smooth and glossy blowout look, I added in a few drops of The Hair Shop’s Silk Drops to bump up the shine,” she says. “I brushed the hair out and tucked both sides behind the ears to make it feel effortless,” with a finishing touch of hairspray for all night hold. 

The “Sharon Stone In Rome”: Rome, April 8

How Zendaya Aced Her ‘Challengers’ Premiere Hair Looks
ROME, ITALY – APRIL 08: Zendaya attends the premiere of the movie “Challengers” at Cinema Barberini on April 08, 2024 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage) (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage)

“We wanted a strong but sexy feel. Think: Sharon Stone– she was our inspiration,” Stephen says. For the third stop of the tour, Zendaya hit it off in Rome with a claw clip-esque hairstyle. Pulling off Stone’s strong 65-year-old power cut, the 27-year-old stepped into her role as a leading woman in Challengers. To do this, “we began with clean, damp hair and added in the SexyHair Big Root Pump,” Stephen says. “This volumizing spray mousse will give us the body and lift that we need to hold throughout the night.” 

Blow drying the hair away from the head, Stephen bumped up the volume before curling the ends of medium sections with a large barrel. The silk drops from her Parisian ‘bombshell blowout’ were massaged in, making the hair bling just like her Bulgari jewels. “Afterward, we teased the crown of her hair, put it into a low bun with a brush, secured it with a hair tie, and pinned the loose hair close to the head.” As the final detail, the hairstylist pulled and separated the crown before the look was set in “stone” with a volume-lifting hair spray.

The “Braid And Bow”: London, April 10

How Zendaya Aced Her ‘Challengers’ Premiere Hair Looks
US actor Zendaya poses on the red carpet upon arrival to attend the UK premiere of the film “Challengers”, in central London, on April 10, 2024. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Stephen referenced the Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova for the London look. Arguably the most overt nod to Challengers, “we went literal with the braid and bow,” she says. As simple as the look was– paired with a custom Thom Browne athletic mesh halter dress and red lip– the execution had us doing a double take. A quarter-sized dollop of SexyHair Style Hard Up Hard Holding Gel started the look off; applied throughout the hair, hairline, and nape for a strong hold. 

“We then combed the hair into a ponytail, securing it with a hair tie,” she says, before attaching The Hair Shop Wrap Ponytail extension for a lengthier look. Holding the extension with hairspray, “we braided the ponytail, securing it with a tiny invisible elastic.”

The “Undone ‘Do”: Los Angeles, April 16

How Zendaya Aced Her ‘Challengers’ Premiere Hair Looks
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Zendaya arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere Of Amazon MGM Studios “Challengers” at Westwood Village Theater on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/FilmMagic)

“We didn’t want to compete with the dress,” Stephen says, referencing Zendaya’s deconstructed Vera Wang ball gown. Back home in LA, the actress’ lace bustier mimicked lingerie and her hair complemented the bedtime look well. “We thought simplicity made the most sense,” the hairstylist says. “Having it a little undone matched the sexiness of the corset.” The bedhead ballerina bun, prepped with blowout crème, was blown dry with a voluminous root. 

Adding skinny clip-ins at the crown, “I then grabbed all of the hair into a ponytail and secured it with a bungee, and twisted and pinned the hair into a donut,” she says. The slept-in look was incomplete without texturizing powder, which Stephen dabbed around the hairline and nape. Working with the product, she “used my fingertips to roll the hair in a circular motion to create a fuzzy, airy ‘disheveled’ texture.” With that, an undone ‘do is the ideal style to end a month-long press tour.

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