Zerina Akers is extremely humble for a woman at the top of her field. As the visionary stylist behind each and every one of the looks featured in Beyoncé’s ground-breaking visual album Black is King, the Maryland-born, Los Angeles-based creative just celebrated a major career milestone. Fashion is often accused of being a nepotistic business, but in Akers’ case, her success is the result of relentless hard work. She cut her teeth at magazines, design houses and PR agencies before going on to work alongside some of the most influential stylists in the industry, including Ray Oliveira, B. Akerlund, Lori Goldstein, Alex White, Camilla Nickerson and Karl Templer.
It was six years ago that she first started a creative partnership with Beyoncé, but it wasn’t until Akers styled the outfits for the superstar’s seminal Formation video, released in 2016, that she felt like she had finally ‘made it’. And all that is on top of helping her other clients – including Chloe x Halle and Niecy Nash – dress for their myriad engagements and red-carpet appearances.
Akers considers her work to be a balancing act: “Styling is a collaborative effort. Dressing is such a personal thing, and being the person who comes into that space is a very delicate position to occupy. It’s very important that my clients trust me – but I’m also there to push them.” Of course, Akers’ is a stellar résumé by any standards, but it’s her commitment to helping the next generation of creatives that truly sets her apart. “That is something I would like to carry with me as my career grows and develops, making time for younger people.” Here, she shares her career and styling secrets…
Put in the hours
“Fashion was always a part of my being, but I never thought it could be a career. I was the little girl who wanted to wear her Easter dress every day of the week; I’ve always loved getting dressed up. In high school, I started making my own clothes, then friends started wearing them, too. At that point I thought I wanted to be a designer – I also thought it was the only way to get into fashion.
“I was in college before I discovered styling. After that I interned at W Magazine and Stella McCartney; with PR agencies and Derek Roche, who was Diddy’s stylist at the time. I was exploring all these different aspects of the industry – I wanted to learn everything.
“After years of interning, freelancing and assisting, all the preparation came together six year ago, when I was met with the opportunity to work with Beyoncé. I did things the old-school way; I clawed my way to the top.”
Finding new brands can require a bit of extra legwork, but it’s worth it. You can see designers going so much further just because someone shared who they are and what they do”
Be a part of something
“I could never choose a favorite look from Black is King! How could I? What I will say is that I love the leopard-print Valentino moment – and how opulent the entire cast is throughout. You never know how a project is going to be received – people can be so hyper-critical – but the reaction to Black is King has been crazy; I wasn’t prepared for it. It’s quite surreal: I wrapped it over a year ago and, at the time, you’ve just got your head down and you’re putting one foot in front of the other; but now it’s been released, I understand that I’ve contributed to something that will be around for decades. I understand now that it will serve as a reference point, not only for art and creatives, but also for Black people and Black beauty. The timing of Black is King has made us part of a collective voice and movement. It’s a part of history now, and that leaves me lost for words.”
Champion new talent
“Supporting emerging designers is really important to me; it can do so much for their career to have a celebrity wear their work. Finding these new brands can require a bit of extra legwork, but it’s worth it. Stylists often hoard. We find designers and want to keep them a secret because we want our client to be the first to wear them, but recently there’s been a shift; you can actually see designers going so much further just because someone shared who they are and what they do. That’s actually why I founded Black Owned Everything, an online platform for Black-owned businesses. There’s a real hunger for this kind of celebratory and collaborative way of expressing and sharing; we launched just over two months ago and already have more than 150,000 followers on Instagram.”
The reaction to Black is King has been crazy; I wasn’t prepared for it. Now it’s been released, I understand that it will serve as a reference point, not only for art and creatives, but also for Black people and Black beauty. It’s a part of history now, and that leaves me lost for words”
“One of the things that is most prominent in my work – and my closet – is color; it’s a celebration of life. I’ll often wear monochromatic looks, whether they’re all yellow, all red or all pink. I love the opulence that comes with matching from head to toe. It’s something that’s really specific to my aesthetic. What inspires me most often is real people, and particularly the Black experience; and that’s exactly where this idea of monochromatic dressing comes from. It reminds me of women attending southern Baptist churches wearing their Sunday best; which often means matching your dress to your hat, gloves and shoes. This cross-cultural experience, and the symbolism behind it, is really important to me.”
Color is a celebration of life. I’ll often wear monochromatic looks, whether they’re all yellow, all red or all pink. I love the opulence that comes with matching from head to toe”
Find the right balance
“As the stylist, you have to make an impression when you walk into a room, otherwise clients and the crew just won’t believe in you. Even if just one aspect of your look isn’t right, it can be really distracting. My style is a vibrant mix of feminine and masculine elements. I love strong silhouettes; they make me feel powerful. The most-worn pieces in my work closet are probably my oversized power suits: Alexander McQueen and Victoria Beckham are my go-tos. Whether I wear them with heels or my Balenciaga Triple S sneakers, I always feel pulled together. When I’m at home, it’s a different story. You’ll find me wearing comfy sweats or Paco Rabanne’s Moroccan-print pieces – I have a real bohemian side. I spend my time gardening, planting herbs and vegetables; people call me ‘Martha Akers’.”
My style is a vibrant mix of feminine and masculine elements. I love strong silhouettes; they make me feel powerful”
Pay attention to detail
“It’s all about the accessories. I can wear a white tee and blue jeans, but pair them with an amazing pair of Balenciaga boots or a gorgeous bag and it can make it a real look. I love Bottega Veneta’s new bags – those are at the top of my wish list right now. I’m also really into twisted basics, like heeled thong sandals; it’s about taking something classic and turning it on its head. When it comes to jewelry, I’m an earring girl: a stunning pair can elevate any outfit. I’m a big fan of Nausheen Shah x Monica Sordo’s oversized designs. On the flip side, I’m very low-key when it comes to hair and beauty. I’ll wear makeup if the occasion calls for it. Two of my favorite products are Nars’ Sheer Glow foundation and KNC Beauty’s collagen lip masks – essential before applying a color. But honestly, healthy skin is my main priority.”