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For those still in awe over Beyoncé’s epic homage to Lil’ Kim this Halloween, you’re not alone. Seeing Queen Bey and her oh-so-talented stylist Zerina Akers recreate the looks that dominated the world of hip-hop, style and culture in the late ’90s and early 2000s took us on an amazing trip down memory lane.
And while Beyoncé and Akers beautifully paid respect to “the originial Queen B,” we’d be remiss not to celebrate the style arhtitect behind those iconic Lil’ Kim fashion moments… Misa Hylton.
Hylton was the mastermind of those eye-catching colored furs and wigs, as well as that famous breast-exposing jumpsuit Kim wore at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards that shocked the world. Beyond Lil Kim, the Mount Veron-born and raised stylist also crafted looks for Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Total, Faith Evans, SWV, Missy Elliott and other major stars during the golden era of hip-hop and R&B.
Now after her legendary work with Lil’ Kim is back in the spotlight, ESSENCE chatted with Hylton about her thoughts on Beyoncé’s homage, what it was like working with the originial Queen B (including how that one-breasted jumpsuit came to be), and how she’s still creating iconic images that will be talking about for years to come. Check it out!
ESSENCE: What did you think when you first saw Beyoncé’s Lil’ Kim homage for Halloween?
MISA: I was surprised— and then I felt, like, “Wow!” It brought back so many memories about working with Kim and all that we were able to do together— the impact that it had.
ESSENCE: Do you think Bey did a good job?
MISA: I thought she did an excellent job! And I thought Zerina did a excellent job! They nailed it. There was so much attention to detail —that’s what made it special.
ESSENCE: Have you talked to Beyoncé or Lil’ Kim since the images were released?
MISA: Not Bey, but I did speak with Kim. We were so excited and so happy! She was like “Do you see this?” I’m like, “Yes, oh my God!” My heart is so happy.
ESSENCE: Were you surprised that they were able to find items so close to what you used?
MISA: Well, a great stylist can find anything. Zerina is a great stylist. I wasn’t surprised.
ESSENCE: What was your favorite look that they recreated?
MISA: I loved all of them. I loved all of it!
ESSENCE: But which one were you most impressed by in terms of execution?
MISA: The body suit with the fur, because we had that custom made. I don’t know how long they were planning this, but those cuffs and everything were made from two mink skins that we had to dye and sew together. It was a whole thing. So to recreate that, it was really like, “Wow, they really went in.”
ESSENCE: Tell us about your time working with Lil’ Kim. You two really created some of the most iconic looks in hip-hop, which have clearly stood the test of time.
MISA: My time working with Kim was magical. It was almost like when God and the universe just create this perfect alignment. It was so effortless. That’s the crazy thing about it. What we did, we just did it. We were just being creative. We were young. We had no boundaries. We had no social media. We had people behind us who supported us, which was big. We were creating this whole new style and whole new way of a woman presenting themselves —our own lane. The woman that wanted to be over-the-top or loved to play with hair and wigs and color and fun. While also being very feminine and sensuous.
ESSENCE: While others were chasing trends you were creating your own. Where does that confidence come from? Especially when some thought your looks were clownish.
MISA: They did think that. And everything is not for everybody. But we had a big audience. And if you didn’t like what Kim wore, you were still looking and that was the beauty about it. Even if you wouldn’t wear yourself, you still were interested and wanted to see what it was and see how it was put together.
ESSENCE: What was your absoutely favorite look that you dreamed up for Lil’ Kim?
MISA: Definitely the “Crush On You” video with all the colored furs and hair. I got to be so creative and we really got to push the envelope on that one. And it was a hit. And what it was able to do for her career and mine as well, it was just like … I don’t even know what word to use. It was like you couldn’t even imagine how much changed after that. She became a fashion it girl and everybody wanted a piece of her. And she starts shooting M.A.C campaigns. That’s what creativity can do. And when you really have the courage to create something different, not be a cookie cutter or just about recreating looks that are safe or that you know will work. Pushing the envelope —it has great rewards.
ESSENCE: The one look that Beyoncé didn’t that is probably the most famous look you designed for Lil’ Kim was her jumpsuit and pasty ensemble from the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards.
MISA: I don’t think she did it because it’s been done so much. That moment, I was actually inspired be Missy Elliot, we were hanging out one weekend talking about music, fashion, and all that stuff. And she was like “You know what? If I was Kim, I would just have one titty out and be like fuck it! ” And I was like hmmm, it just got me thinking. That would be something wouldn’t it? And the next event was the MTV Music Awards so I created that look, from Missy’s inspiration. And because it is like one breast out I wanted to make it really beautiful and really ornate so I used Indian bridal fabric and it was this really beautiful lavender and white, lace and sequins. And we had just come off the high of the “Crush On You” video, which I had Kim wearing primary colors —so I was like, “lets start doing pastels.”
ESSENCE: Truly iconic. And you haven’t stopped working. In fact, you founded The Misa Hylton Fashion Styling Academy. What else have you been up to?
MISA: I did the June 2017 Elle cover with Missy Elliott. I also just did a Honda commercial, which takes you through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s and 2000s fashion and dance evolution. And Fatima Robinson did the choreography. I get to choose the projects I want to be a part of, because the academy is like my focus. But I’m still styling. There are a lot of new artists that reach out to me. I like to share the work with my students and my assistants.