Emmy-winning stylist Zerlina Akers has worked with Megan Thee Stallion, Latto, Ava Duvernay, and Chloe and Halle, but her most viewed work has been the seven years she spent working with Beyoncé. She was her stylist from 2014 -2021, winning the 2021 Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for Variety, Fiction or Reality Programming for Black is King.
Among the iconic looks, Akers crafted for Beyoncé is the black hat she wore in the “Formation” video, from her critically acclaimed Lemonade album in 2017.
Along the way, Akers created Black Owned Everything, which is exactly what it says – a site that sells apparel, kid’s items, accessories, home products, and more from black-owned companies. She’s hoping to upgrade the site to showcase even more content based on the work of black creators.
“It started through summer 2020,” Akers said in a recent interview with Ruth Etiesit Samuel for Huffington Post. “While many fashion insiders were calling out these larger houses and these larger brands, I thought that that energy could go a lot further. Even a percentage of that energy could go a lot further by shining the light on our creators. I launched the platform, and I launched the Instagram [page], which then led to the marketplace.”
Akers, 36, who is from Maryland but now lives in Southern California, got her start interning at W Magazine and then working as a fashion assistant for several years. She was connected to Beyoncé close to the release of her self-titled album by Black is King co-director Kwasi Fordjour, who helped her set up a meeting with the Renaissance star.
“It really was a full-circle moment working with her,” Akers said. “I have watched everything that she did, so it came easy to me, knowing what you know, what she’s done before, what silhouettes suited her in the past, though she’s a very different woman. There are so many different versions of her, but how can I, as a stylist, find that new version?”
During her time with Beyoncé, she styled her not just for red carpets but for her personal wardrobe as well.
“‘It’s like, how can we still stay true to the powerhouse that she is but still try something new to mark these times and where she is at the moment?’ That was always my goal because it first started in personal wardrobe, where she was popping out in the streets of New York a lot. A lot of people don’t really know, but that was a lot of me as well, all those [images of] her going into the office. Color-blocking and all those sorts of things were almost like us getting to know each other. Then I was able to move on to doing more video projects and things like that. The first noticeable one was the ‘Formation’ hat look, but just that one look in that video. I didn’t do the whole video; then, I probably did most of “Apesh–” with the exception of one look, then ‘Black Is King.’”
Beyoncé was Akers’ first client as a personal stylist but her work with Megan Thee Stallion and Latto has brought her accolades as well.
“Working with Meg is a dream,” Akers told Huffpo. “I would say she’s one of my favorite people to work with. I’d hate to even play favorites, but Megan Thee Stallion is so confident. You can just dress her, or you can put anything on her. She may not go for anything, but she is fine with every inch of her body. That is just so refreshing to work with.”
As for Latto, the “Big Energy” rapper has ascended to the top of the Hip-Hop firmament in a few short years and needed her wardrobe to reflect that growth. Akers says she was happy to have the chance to craft her look.
“The fun thing about Latto is she’s a new artist. She is so young; Latto’s 23, so developing that style and working with her to kind of really shape her persona is really fun. She is still a rapper, finding that toughness. All the female rappers are very sexy, but she is willing to play around with that sort of tomboy edge as well and bring out that Big Latto. I loved Latto’s “Flaunt” shoot. It’s very simple, but I loved Latto’s [outfit in the] ‘It’s Givin’ [music video.] It was a very simple Mugler blazer with a red glove.”
Despite her prominence in the industry, Akers says that the struggles continue. In the ’90s, as Hip-Hop started to dominate music, it was a challenge to get fashion lines to dress artists, even ones that were big at the time like Missy, Lil’ Kim, and Salt-N-Pepa. Stylists of that era had to knock on many doors to get their artists taken seriously. Black designers were few and far between. Zerlina Akers says that unfortunately, it can still be difficult to get major designers to work with Black artists.
“It’s actually getting worse; it’s turning back the other way, as much as people are doing things for the Black community and trying to do these activations and things like that. Now, on the flip side, there are brands that now think, “I’m gonna be cool and do it the other way.” If you notice, models are getting skinnier and skinnier again.”
She continued, “Vivienne Westwood — I can call it out. We tried to dress Latto for Fashion Week, and it was like, ‘Oh, she’s not on our approved list of clients.’ It feels like they’ll pick one Black performer at a time. So if it’s not a Beyoncé or Rihanna… they’re really not giving these girls a chance.”