With nostalgia for the ’90s and early aughts currently at a high, thanks in part to Gen-Z’s obsession with the eras, one style visionary is rising again in the zeitgeist: celebrity stylist Misa Hylton. As the woman who helped dress icons like Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige on the red carpet, in their music videos, and for their performances, Hylton created some of the most legendary looks of this period that are still referenced today on TikTok and Instagram.
“It makes me feel grateful and it makes me continue to feel inspired,” Hylton tells TZR about the longevity she, Kim, Blige, and others have had after decades in the industry. Hylton got her big break styling up-and-coming hip hop acts at just 17 years old, while she was in high school, with help from an A&R intern and her then-boyfriend, Sean Combs. Yes, that Sean Combs. It wasn’t long before Hylton was styling Mary J. Blige in the sporty-chic looks of her “Real Love” music video, and Lil Kim in the now-iconic purple one-shoulder jumpsuit at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. “I'm just a woman from Mount Vernon, New York. I didn't have any high-level fashion training. I just went off of pure gift, talent, and my gut, I believed in myself, and I was courageous in anything that I created.”
Hylton’s gift is still in high demand: She runs her own fashion academy, has a creative partnership with MCM (which Beyoncé wore in the 2019 “Apeshit” music video), and is a member of the Black In Fashion Council advisory board. Most recently, she collaborated with I.N.C. on a fashion collection inspired by her Black and Japanese heritage. “I love prints, I love color, and I love femininity,” Hylton says about the vibrant assortment. “I knew that I wanted to create something very feminine that would make women feel beautiful and empowered.”
As the world reopens after a tumultuous year, Hylton is looking to the future by investing in young creatives of color who need help getting into the fashion world. She founded her fashion academy almost two years ago to help nurture young talent and give them opportunities the way she was given a chance early in her career. And the academy is already making major waves in the industry as it announced last month that it was one of the recipients of the 2021 Gucci Changemakers Grant, which will help sponsor the Misa Hylton Fashion Academy’s five-day junior fashion camp this summer.
Here, TZR talked to Hylton about her new collection at Macy’s, her personal style, and why she’s happy luxury fashion finally caught up to the magic that is streetwear, and more.
What has this last year been like for you in terms of work and creativity?
The last year has been really amazing, to be honest. It was a weird experience to be at a high while so many lows were happening. Personally, I experienced a lot of loss. Close friends of mine have passed away from COVID-19 and our lives being turned inside out was definitely a challenge. But at the same time, simultaneously, there were a lot of exciting things that came forth during this time, and this Macy's collaboration was one of them.
What was it like for you to create your own capsule collection with Macy’s?
I had worked with MCM doing custom-made pieces, so I already had a peek into how [to] design, create, and bring forth products. But having this experience with Macy's was very different from that process. So it was another opportunity to learn about the industry I am in from another angle as a designer.
You’ve had a decades-long career, how does it feel to see the continued success of the people you've worked with for so long?
I now see what creates success. These are simple, basic things, but believing in yourself, having courage, trusting your gut, and understanding your natural talents are [all] what got me here. I was blessed to work with amazing people who have the same talent, the same gut, and the same unique qualities and they embraced them too.
To be able to collaborate with the artists and the clients that I have for the last 30 years now is truly a blessing and I feel grateful to have been able to do it. When I look at it, I think wow. While I was in it, I didn't really think about it because I'm really like a worker bee. I love to be behind the scenes and I like to create. I'm always in my mind and I'm always inspired. I love music and I'm inspired by my environment. It’s really a testament to being on purpose.
What has the last year been like for the young people you work with as part of MHFA?
It's funny because although things are changing and they could invite some insecurity and fear, there are also so many more opportunities than there ever existed before. So as things change, that means there are new opportunities, right? Instead of holding onto the past, we have to realize this is what the future looks like. We’re on the brink of major changes and we have to be flexible and roll with it.
Those are the types of conversations that I have with my students, alumni, and even my peers. I think that we want things to be how they were, but it's not that way anymore. It's going to be better. There are going to be new opportunities, which means we have to educate ourselves about what those will be and how to become an expert in those new things that we want to pursue. There are so many different areas of fashion, so it’s important to be on point, aware, and knowledgeable about what's happening and what the future of fashion is going to look like. I mean, we can sit around and be sad or we can be excited. I feel excited about it.
How will fashion change after the pandemic?
I got dressed for the whole quarantine. Lately, I’ve been going over to Mary J. Blige’s house in my cute outfit with my jewelry on and my accessories. We have a great time and drink Sun Goddess wine and then I go back home. I'm just that type of person: I don't have to be at a party, in public, or at an event to want to get in that mood and get dressed. I know there are also people who appreciate comfort and streetwear because I do too. I'm going to do both because I was that little girl who used to change her clothes five times a day, her hairstyles, and her hair colors. That’s always going to be a part of who I am.
You’ve always dressed your clients in streetwear. How do you feel seeing how sneaker culture and streetwear have now become mainstream?
I've always embraced streetwear and street culture. There was a time in my fashion journey where they were considered “ghetto,” “hood,” inappropriate, and not what you should wear. So to see it embraced, I'm like, “you guys finally caught up.” That's the flavor and that's the swag. I've always been on it and I'm glad I'm not jumping on the bandwagon now. Everyone that knows me in fashion knows that I've always been true to my roots and to what I thought was hot no matter what other people thought.
And there’s something about streetwear that's always going to be important in fashion. It's always going to be interesting and it's always going to be something that people want to tap into because it's the energy that's in it. It's so authentic, organic, and real.
These days, how do you take care of yourself?
First and foremost, you have to drink a lot of water. You hear that a lot, but you really have to do it because it keeps your cells in good shape and your brain working and feeling good. I try to keep myself hydrated and eat healthy. I'll make sure that I'm taking care of my body and my health first because I could be anywhere and do anything but if I don't feel good, it doesn't matter.
My go-to place is the beach or any space around water. It doesn't have to be an exotic island, but of course, I love that. Water always relaxes and rejuvenates me. And as far as unplugging, I do just that. When it's time to take breaks, I put my phone down and away. I make sure that I create boundaries around my access because now I notice I don't have any time to myself, between Zoom, texting, email, and Instagram. I just create an environment in my home and in any space where I am that brings me peace.