When you’re called the “Beyonce of henna” it’s because your work is beautiful, intricate, and in very high demand. That’s been artist Chelsea Stevenson’s nickname ever since she started applying henna in 2011 with her company Cardamom & Clove.
The art of henna has been around for thousands of years. It involves using a paste to dye the skin in a design often reminiscent of flowers or mandalas. Henna itself is a flowering shrub. Its leaves are dried, powdered, and sifted down before being mixed with simple ingredients such as sugar, essential oils, water, or potentially tea or coffee. When applied to the skin it can naturally stain it for up to three weeks. Despite a common association with South Asian culture, the art of henna originated in Africa. Stevenson herself is African American, as are a majority of her clients.
“The fact that I can take this art and reintroduce it to my community feels really good,” Stevenson said. “It feels really inspiring and empowering for me as an individual, but also for my clients who are experiencing something that is their ancestral art.”
Stevenson is a self-taught henna artist. She started out doing henna on herself as a form of self-care to de-stress, eventually turning it into a business to provide income for her family. Stevenson’s business started out mobile. Whether it was pop-ups, being hosted locally at coffee shops, or going to the house of a client, she didn’t initially have her own space.
But in 2015 she realized it was time to open her own shop so she could offer her clients privacy and a more curated environment.
Now Cardamom & Clove Henna’s boutique is a relaxed and calm environment. The furniture is cozy with lots of pillows, the room has a cool color palette featuring lots of blue and white hue, and Afro beats usually play to fill the room with energy. Scents such as lavender from candles or bakhour fragrance fill the air, allowing for a pleasant aromatic experience along with the signature clove smell of Stevenson’s henna.
“With henna, it’s such an intimate art,” Stevenson says. “We share a space with someone, we’re touching their skin, we’re in very close contact, we’re having very intimate conversations often times. This space allowed for me to occupy proximity with my clients and also be able to serve as a resource.”
The intimate conversations Stevenson has with her clients is a reason she’s so loved. Sessions are often long, giving her and her clients time to chat. The privacy of the boutique allows for Stevenson to really connect with them, especially those that might be getting henna for a significant event or time in their lives.
“A lot of my clients joke and say that I’m cheaper than therapy,” Stevenson says. They feel comfortable talking to her about things going on in their lives that even other close family and friends may not know. She attributes this to the safe environment her boutique allows for, and her ability to emotionally connect with clients.
Henna for weddings is a common practice among brides. Stevenson is very selective when it comes to doing wedding henna. Her services for weddings are multi-day affairs, including getting to know the bride, other bridal party members or family who might attend the henna service, and designing personalized henna designs for the big day. Stevenson has incorporated such things as meaningful symbols, poetry, and names of loved ones into some bridal designs.
“I love to hear their story,” Stevenson says. “I love to hide elements inside their design that speak to that story.” Stevenson loves making these beautiful designs, but even more the personal sentimentality that they hold for each bride.