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Introducing Zerina Akers; the stylist behind Beyoncé’s magnum opus visual album, Black is King

Zerina Akers Photographed by Julien Cozzolino
Zerina Akers Photographed by Julien Cozzolino

It’s been over a month since Beyoncé’s astounding, Black Is King visual album dropped on Disney+ and in Africa on Mnet, and I’m on a zoom call with her stylist, Zerina Akers, the woman behind the fashion in the visual film and on Beyoncé in general.

Zerina, who started as an intern in the fashion closet at W magazine, has been working with Beyoncé for the past six years. She grew up in Landover, Maryland, and used to test her fashion knowledge by flipping magazine editorials and identifying designer credits without even looking, how amazing is that? The internship at W led her to assisting stylists like Camilla Nickerson and B. Akerlund to name a few. It was on a shoot with B. Akerlund that Akers crossed paths with Beyoncé. A few months later, she heard that Beyoncé was looking for a full-time stylist, and after a month trial, Akers was in. Beyoncé and Zerina’s first collaboration appeared on Instagram and has become a permanent part of Beyoncé’s visual storytelling for us her Beyhive.’

‘On the 31st of July, Zerina shifted the fashion paradigm and helped deliver Beyonce’s Black is King. With over a hundred different looks, each frame of the film showcases fashion pulled from runways, boutiques, African designers, and custom pieces Akers made all by herself which she remembers one by one and that can be proven by her posts on Instagram.’

In a detailed zoom call interview, Zerina opens about the film, her passion for social justice, using her platform to elevate other artists, her favourite moment in the film and styling Lupita Nyong'o and Naomi Campbell.

Zerina Akers Photographed by Tyler Adams

Take us through the process of collaborating with African Designers for the film?

I have always tried to diversify the designers and the brands that we are using so they are not all high-end corporate brands. I have always wanted to work with independent designers, going back to Global Citizen in 2018, Beyoncé wore the ready to wear items from independent designers whilst she was in the country and for me as a stylist, it meant it would boost the businesses of the independent designers. When it came to collaborating with designers like Loza Maléombho, I wanted her to operate with her ethos and aesthetics of her designs and how she presents herself in general and didn’t want her to get outside of what she normally creates. We work on so many projects but for me with all the designers I got to create and collaborate with, I felt like this was their time to showcase their work.

Beyoncé in Loza Maléombho

You are very passionate about social justice; representation and you use your platform to elevate other artists. How did you incorporate your passion in the film?

This film was released at the right time and we created it a year ago. If we created it this year, it probably would have been 100% black owned companies involved. For a platform like Disney, I wanted to have a global conversation and bring in influences from many diverse people. Primarily I wanted to spotlight black-owned American designers as well because I feel like they don’t get the spotlight or support in a way. I wanted designers to be involved and tell a story, the film shot waves and was well received, the intention of it all was well received from the looks and how things were incorporated.

What was your favourite fashion moment in the film?

I don’t think I know if I reached that particular moment, but when we got to “MOOD 4 EVA” and Miss Tina Knowles- Lawson who has been in this game for a long time and we were shooting the animal print scenes, she was just having a time and gave me a high five and sent me a message later on that evening and I was like okay, we are onto something.

Beyoncé in Maison Valentino

What was the process for choosing the designers for each look and each visual?

For me, it started with a conversation with Beyoncé and Kwasi Fodjour, where I had a conversation with them about the overall idea of what the concept is. For example, there would be a conversation of constellations of the stars in “Finding Your Way Back”, then I would go back to the drawing board and I think who could achieve the right moment? And I would start the build from there, where I would look at who is known for making crystals? Who is known for that shine? It is always the combination of things because the looks came first. I would have thought of a look and we might have this beautiful Maison Valentino look and we build around that. Afterwards, I would show it to Kwasi and he would shoot around that look. When you look at the beautiful scene in “WATER” where they are in the river in fuchsia pink and holding their flowers, that was from an idea we had earlier on to incorporate something that made sense. During the creative process, it's a number of different things that come to factor before having that specific look which you would see in the film.

How was it styling Lupita Nyong'o and Naomi Campbell?

“When you have guests in your house, you break out the fine china” and that is exactly how it was. Every opportunity to dress Naomi Campbell, I was like we must have it all. I had the opportunity to work with Schiaparelli and it was one of his first collections and I got to use that and that was a perfect moment. With Lupita; it was an intimidating experience dressing her because she’s a very strong woman and you want to make sure you get it right. It was beautiful getting her in that couture Giambattista Valli gown because that was really different for her. The looks were different and fresh from both of them.

What would you like young aspiring creators/stylists to take away from the film?

I would like them to take their time and work their way up, develop their craft, trust themselves and create without attempting to follow. They shouldn’t compare themselves; their journey is theirs and not anyone else. What’s for you is for you.

How does it feel to see the looks recreated on social media?

Watching those videos online actually makes me feel fantastic, it really proves to the notion that we are contributing to something that will outlive us all. Seeing the children be inspired shows that these are going to be memories for them as they grow older, it also brought in so much needed joy and it's powerful how far it has reached. The film provided much needed escape with everything that is going on in the world.

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