Zerina Akers is the go-to stylist for all of our fave recording artists. Chloé and Halle Bailey, Latto, Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie, not to mention our forever queen, Beyoncé, have her on speed dial. The looks she creates for her clients are always next-level. Can we just take a minute to revel in the genius behind her Emmy-winning costume design for "Black is King"? Yes, the award-winning stylist is a trendsetter and creator. She is that girl.
Moreover, during the pandemic in 2020, she created Black Owned Everything, an IG account that solely highlighted fashion, beauty, and interior lines from brand creatives.
Akers is only beginning to warm up. Recently, she was tapped as an Express Celeb Stylist. Below, she delves into her evolution in the fashions biz and gives us some tips on the must-haves we need for our fall wardrobe.
EBONY: How did you get your start in fashion?
Zerina Akers: I went to i fashion school in Philly and ended up having my first internship at W magazine. I would keep going back and forth from Philly to New York. I took all the advice that the editors would give me. Through interning, I landed my first freelance gig with W (and back then the W and Women’s Wear Daily were under the same umbrella.) Once you're in those circles you get to know everyone, and you're kind of afforded more opportunities. I started doing things at Women’s Wear Daily and at Harper's Bazaar. I was able to do all of that while was still in school. I was really hustling. I really wanted to cram in as much experience as I could before I went out on my own. I did an internship at Stella McCartney in the public relations department in New York to see if I was interested in that. Then, I interned at Stella McCartney in London while studying abroad. This led me to assist stylists like Camilla Nickerson as a second assistant, who at the time was a contributing editor at W magazine and Derek Rose. I was bouncing around, getting my feet wet as much as I could, wherever I could really.
Eventually, I ended up assisting a commercial stylist, and that kind of changed the game for me. I met so many people who were really kind. I started meeting single women that built their own life; they had a house in the Hamptons and a place in New York. This was refreshing because often in editorial a lot of the women that I worked with either had husbands with money or family with money, but they weren't really necessarily building their own wealth from the ground up. Even my wrap time with the commercial stylist threw me off at first. We would end at 6 p.m. when in editorial were working 14-hour days. It really changed my perspective. That's where I learned more about budgets on the individual, entrepreneurial level versus reporting it to the corporate machine accounting department and just handing it off. I really learned how to kind of run a business.
How did you end up working with Beyoncé?
I met a creative director through a friend and was telling him my goals or dreams of going independent—you know, starting to do my own thing—and he's like, “Oh yeah, you know [Beyoncé's] looking for someone” and I'm like, “Yeah, give me a meeting.” It was one of those things you don’t think is going to happen and then it actually does.
You worked with Beyoncé and that turned into working with Chloé and Halle and other up-and-coming new artists, right?
I started working with them because it was like a fun project. I was working at Bey's company anyway and Bey doesn't really do carpets like that so it was just kind of a fun kind of thing. I felt like the pandemic was really their year.
And, Latto’s been fun. She's so young and we get to kind of experiment. She's always willing to try new things and she's really into it so it's always exciting. It’s interesting to try to develop someone's style and image in a moment where there are a number of rap girls. It’s interesting to figure out a look that separates them from everyone else.
What are some other career highlights that you are proud of?
I’m proud of dealing with the [BS] of really climbing that ladder and facing adversity and dealing with so-called “enemies.” People don’t see there’s always something or someone in the way. I’m proud to have overcome those obstacles and also learn how to utilize those obstacles. I mean… I’m happy.
I won an Emmy. Not that many people can say that they’ve done that, even actors in the acting space have gone decades upon decades without ever getting one. This put things into perspective but it still feels like a starting point. You work so hard but it still feels like you’ve just begun.
What prompted you to launch Black Owned Everything?
When I first opened the page, it was actually private because so many Black businesses are being circulated I wanted a place where I could, where I knew no matter what, that everything was Black. So whether I was shopping for my projects or a client, I could go to this page. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t not share this with everyone. I actually felt inspired to post on the page. During that time [because of what was going on in the world], I was barely posting on my home page but I felt compelled to share. There was a lot of conversation, a lot of cancel culture, attacking these larger corporations and I just thought what if even 20% of that energy that we're putting into trying to dismantle these other places, we just shine the light on our own creators. Like even with that small percentage, we can go so much further.
You're a celebrity brand ambassador for Express. What are 5 pieces women should have in their closet for fall?
Try wide-leg denim or pants in general as we're steering away from the skinny trend and going into a wider leg—whether it’s wide throughout or a bell-bottom style. Express' editor trousers are the perfect fit.
Invest in a smooth underpinning. Try a nice cream bodysuit They go well with trousers, baggy jeans, whatever. Men can wear them too.
Faux fur leather pants are needed. Everything is moving in a sustainable direction. There are so many facets to that conversation like not using animal products or upcycling which is the new wave. I see a lot more brands, even larger ones doing so, which is wise. A lot of them have a lot of dead stock which they can use to continuously recreate pieces.
I’m more of a ring girl with statement earrings. But for jewelry, right now, I’m really into cuffs. Cuffs on men or women over the sleeve add a cool factor. Two beautiful cuffs elevate any look.
A good classic coat that you can wear with your basic T-shirt and jeans is a must. Buy a classic style but take it a step further by purchasing it in a vibrant color to give your simple look that wow factor.