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Turban by Laurel DeWitt Black Is King fashion looks
This look features a dress by Alessandra Rich, paired with a turban by Laurel DeWitt.

How Zerina Akers created Black is King’s fashion fantasy

Beyoncé’s stylist on midnight calls to designers and finding new ways to push the boundaries

Why be a conformist, when you can be a leader? It’s a question that has driven stylist Zerina Akers’ career, which reached a new height last week with the release of Beyoncé’s Black Is King. With more outfit changes than you’d think possible in 85 minutes, the project features hundreds of looks from lavish couture gowns to custom pieces, all overseen and commissioned by Akers and her team.

While the film was over a year in the making, her agenda was a fearless statement of intent – even if working with one of the biggest artists in the world comes with its own challenges, like finding new ways to push the boundaries. Identity, originality, and a desire to bring a narrative that flicks through the lanes of culture and history to life were central to her vision. “Not only do I find beauty in the everyday, but there’s an elegance and a regalness in Black culture, even through spirituality, paying homage to what surrounds us, bringing in colour... I love twisting the basics and redefining those codes,” she says. “I wanted to leave a mark that spanned beyond the Black circle.”

Below, the Maryland-raised stylist speaks about her meteoric rise in the past six years, from first jumping aboard Beyoncé’s crew, to creating her own opportunities, and unpacking how she copes with the pressures and expectations. Akers knows exactly why she’s here, and what she’s here to do: “I want to empower young talents whether they are graduates or whether they couldn’t afford to go to school but are trying to make it happen anyway and ensure they’re represented,” she explains. And through her newly launched digital platform Black Owned Everything, Akers highlights a wealth of Black creators from across the world.


“I actually met Beyoncé when I came across her creative director, who at the time was the assistant to the creative director Kwasi Fordjour, who’s also co-directed the latest project. She was looking for a day-to-day stylist, someone who could curate her personal wardrobe. I managed that, and Kwasi got me a meeting: we managed to pin down some test shoots together and it really began from that moment. That was six years ago in New York, we were there at the time and then relocated to LA. Back then, I was just trying to take it day by day and get to know what it was that she needed and what it is that she wanted first. 

Then I kind of pushed. I’m a bit aggressive, so I would pitch myself for things as they came up, and she decided to lock me in for bigger projects like music videos and things like that. I’d be asked to pitch boards and come up with ideas even if I wasn’t necessarily the stylist for the project, purely because I wanted her to hear the ideas that I had. I wasn’t afraid to pitch them – (the) worst thing she could do was to decline. She’s awesome, really open-minded, and she pushes us in a way that stretches her team to aim for the best. In the moments when it can be a bit frustrating, in the end it always makes the project better, those small things and those minor requests that seem impossible in that specific moment (but) always contribute positively to strengthening the work.”


“Initially, I leap straight to the creative side of it all, as I want to get acquainted with what her vision is, particularly because half the time it can be very different... I always check in with her to see what she visualises and then I combine that with what I have hovering in my mind, alongside what pops into my head, then we start to do research and put together some visuals that represent her true persona (and how we want to move forward), in some loose directions and directives within my team, and then we just hammer it all in. We always go the opposite as well so if we’re doing something that goes in line with a tribal reference, I’ll still bring the glam factor, like with couture pieces, or something a little bit off-beat because there’s always a curveball. We could be on one location and there’s suddenly a beautiful colour of a corner, and you realise you can shoot this other thing; it’s almost being totally prepared for anything.”

“We always go the opposite as well so if we’re doing something that goes in line with a tribal reference, I’ll still bring the glam factor, like with couture pieces” – Zerina Akers


“From the get-go, I repetitively pondered: ‘How do we make this video the best? How can we make this different? What hasn’t she done?’ I mean, we’ve seen so much of Beyoncé. I’ve always been a huge fan of her even as a young girl, so having seen every single costume she’s worn has embedded her style into my brain. I couldn’t help but wonder: how can we approach something (with) someone so iconic that has seemingly done it all? How can we make it new? How can we push the boundaries? How can we explore new silhouettes? Because we were able to attack (the project by filming) one video at a time, the focus was always in making that video look incredibly polished and beautiful, translating a narrative into a stand-alone (work)... All of that crammed into one piece (becomes) quite explosive and quite overwhelming.” 


“My team is responsible for that. I’m a little crazier, I call designers around midnight with an idea – just to get it out of my brain. Moving onto practicalities, I started by going to the fabric store and picking anything that spoke to me and that represented what was starting to run through my head, as we developed and fleshed out what we wanted things to look like. So we went to pull textures and had this book of swatches. As we started to develop costume looks and themes, I had these bits that I could kinda reference. Vogue Runway is necessary, but it’s also important for me to support those designers who support her, so in those moments when we needed a last-minute red-carpet look Olivier Rousteing at Balmain was always in for us, no matter how big/small the project is or whether it’s last minute. Then Valentino, BurberryMary Katrantzou and so on. However, I’m constantly in search of the next new thing and the next young talent. Sometimes there can be limitations because if there’s something that comes on a bit last minute, we may not have the time for the shipment coming from Nigeria to arrive in LA, so we try to work around it. We did what we could and tried to make it happen.”

“From the get-go, I repetitively pondered: ‘How do we make this video the best? How can we make this different? What hasn’t she done?” – Zerina Akers


“At the time, I thought it was going to be on a Disney platform, (for) young and old audiences, and I felt it was important to have a global conversation within that space. I thought it could have been interesting to get different designers and it all sort of thrived from there and tied into this uniquely African-inspired aesthetic, signifying that everything comes from this one continent really. The tea-party scene was one of my favourite scenes to style and every girl was a dream. It was almost like interrogating a fantasy world. 

“It’s about really speaking up about the entitlement that we all deserve. We all deserve to feel and to be entitled to a certain regality” – Zerina Akers

As a creative, I’m always intrigued by playing with duality and androgyny and what that represents. The dichotomy of men and women is also important; in the videos as it flicks through a sea of aesthetics, sometimes you see her in a suit standing alongside her husband quite strongly, and to me that’s very empowering. It’s about really speaking up about the entitlement that we all deserve. We all deserve to feel and to be entitled to a certain regality. Not that we have to work towards it, because it’s something that we have in us already. So you’ll find that the designers were not limited to be worn or showcased by Beyoncé, but they were in the background with dancers. There was a woman who curates a gallery in San Francisco, and she loaned us a series of these ancient artefacts, together with jewels manufactured from horns of 200-year-old beads. I want everyone to feel that power. That everyone is on the same playing field in a way.”


“I think often there’s times when we create, (that) an overuse of referencing can abound quite heavily – having to stick to a reference and to a cultural point or a period piece. I always want to get away from that and just create something fresh by letting it come from the mind, so there’s more to reference for the future. I wanted to provide an escape, because even then when we worked on this last year, there’s this sort of urge, especially in fashion, this hunger and this thirst for fantasy. Now, everything is so practical that we’re not dreaming anymore. We’re refusing to live and be able to escape because everything needs to be saleable and commercialised. I wanted to try to find that fun you had in high school when you were making clothes and gluing them together. It was important for me and it’s something that has translated and amplified with all that 2020 has thrown on us, between the movement and a pandemic. It was a much-needed escape.”