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6 Very Specific References You Might Have Missed in Beyoncé's "Black Is King"

Last week, the debut of Beyoncé's Black Is King film sparked a flurry of Disney+ subscriptions, enthusiastic memes, think pieces, and tons of exposure for everyone involved behind-the-scenes. Of course, our focus was on the lavish, mesmerizing, imposing outfits—I pretty much ran out of adjectives trying to describe them. For that, you can thank costume designer Zerina Akers. She collaborated with Beyoncé, creative director Kwasi Fordjour, and Paris-based stylist Rogelio Burgos on the memorable looks.

I interviewed Akers about her work on the monumental film and she revealed plenty of gems. For my first question, I asked about what specific references helped guide her vision. "To name a few: The hides used in Zulu culture. Ndebele neck stretching," she responded. "The Masked Men of Burkina Faso. The jumping dances of the Maasai people. Nigerian unified wedding dressing. These all lenses subtle nuances to the wardrobe."

Akers also mentioned a way she conveyed Beyoncé's theme of regality via accessories. "Throughout the film, you will see things like cowrie shells (many items made by LaFalaise Dion) which was inspired by a time when cowrie shells were traded as currency and worn as a symbol of wealth," Akers told Who What Wear. Scroll down to read the rest of our enlightening interview with Zerina Akers. 

On Good Morning America, Beyoncé said: "Black is King means Black is regal and rich, in history and in purpose and in language." How do the outfits in the film convey these ideas?  "One thing that speaks to this is that in the styling, we pulled out all of the stops not only for Beyoncé but for her dancers and deep background characters as well," Akers responded. "Throughout the film, you will see things like cowrie shells (many items made by LaFalaise Dion) which was inspired by a time when cowrie shells were traded as currency and worn as a symbol of wealth."

For a project this massive with so many looks, where do you usually begin? I typically start by touching base with Beyoncé and Kwasi Fordjour, her Creative Director, to get their thoughts if there’s anything they specifically want to address. With this project, we had to hit the ground running so I went to the fabric store and created a bit of a swatch library of things that spoke to me. I jumped right into creating a bunch of custom looks by local designers while my Paris counterpart, Rogelio Burgos, started pulling the runway looks.

What look has been the most rewarding for you to see come alive on screen?  The principle looks in "Find Your Way Back." It captured the essence of the project with subtle tribal references, a combination of independent and runway designers, and a futuristic element. It was truly styled to create the look. Was there a look that was particularly challenging to bring together? The chess scene was definitely one of the more challenging scenes to get through. I had to call in back up since there was so much going on that day. We shot/staged 2-3 sets at a time. Brookelyn Styles came through to support.

There were so many fantastic accessory moments throughout, but the unique eyewear really stood out to us. Where did you source the sunglasses? A number of places! Many of the notable Karin Rose Gold of A-Morir. Planet I custom made the “Mood” glasses. L’enchantuer dipped a pair in 14k gold.  Can you tell us about the process of creating the outfits for Blue Ivy?  When dressing Blue Ivy, I often try to coordinate her with her mother. Sometimes we take existing looks and alter them to fit her or we make something completely custom. I like for her to feel equally a part of the party!

Were there any under-the-radar brands you were excited to feature in the film? Plenty! I was super excited to pull Jerome Lamaar back into designing he had taken a break from his brand 5:31 Jerome. Loza Maléombho and I had been trying to get a look on Beyoncé for a while and it finally landed here! These looks really set the tone in the Already Video.

This look was put together for the song "Find Your Way Back."

A scene for the song "Already."

This appeared in the scenes for "Find Your Way Back."

This look accompanied the song "Brown Skin Girl."

An ethereal setting for "Bigger."

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