When Meek Mill took the stage to pay tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, he needed a look to match the power and pain of his message. Bathed in soft light, Meek donned an elegant suit in Hussle’s signature shade of blue, a white pocket square, and three custom-made diamond lapel pins designed just for the occasion by celebrity jeweler Greg Yuna, which included a lifelike bust of Nip’s face, a rendering of his Marathon flag, and the logo of his record label, All Money In.
Meek’s look that night, a spot-on blend of street cred and sophistication, was the work of his longtime stylist Fatima, who considers every detail when crafting outfits for her clients’ most high-profile moments. “Saluting Nipsey at the Grammys was this historical moment, so I asked myself: What would Obama wear,” the Harlem-born visionary says. The lapel pins, she decided, were the perfect, presidential touch.
Since then, Meek’s style evolution and personal growth have matured in lockstep, and Fatima has ensured that his looks can cross over from rocking concert stages to speaking with congressmen. “Knowing his growth and where he’s at mentally and the message that he's speaking and rapping about,” she says. “I just try to translate that.”
“Every artist that I have worked with, I just tried to enhance what they already have going on.”
For the past 11 years, Fatima’s brought that knack for translating personality traits into outfits to an influential roster of clients, including 21 Savage and Swizz Beatz, in addition to Meek. Today those artists’ looks reflect maturity and confidence, proving that working with Fatima has big benefits. But her work goes beyond simply helping an artist get dressed. Through her styling, she’s contributed to hip-hop’s overall aesthetic blossoming. Still, humble to the core, Fatima declines to give herself too much credit. Despite the fact that she’s behind avant garde looks like Wiz Khalifa’s dalmation-print fur coat from his 2012 O.N.I.F.C. album cover, Fatima attributes her influence to the power of collaboration.
“Teamwork comes into play with everyone, including the artist, the photographers, and the assistants,” Fatima elaborates. “It's not just me pulling clothes and placing it on the artist, you know what I mean? There's so many different components that come in. It's a collective thing.”
Style is narrative to Fatima, so her process starts with communication. It’s about getting to know a person, studying their work, and having them trust her understanding of the story they want to tell. “I don't know how I do it sometimes,” she says with a laugh, “but I think we come from the same world and most of the people that I work with, we're close in age, so we relate to each other. We speak the same language, so the trust is kind of already there.”
That trust is also built on a history of hard work. After training as an assistant to Missy Elliott’s former stylist Brandon Atherley, Fatima first worked as the lead stylist on the video for “Up Out My Face,” a 2010 collaboration between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. For that short, she created the life-sized Barbie look that Minaj later went on to fully embrace. Fatima admits her trajectory skyrocketed from there, as Wiz Khalifa, The Weeknd, DRAM, 6lack, and other big artists clamoured to work with her. Styling men, Fatima says, is where she discovered her true talent, in part because she grew up around well-dressed men and now finds it easy to communicate with her male clients. Besides, “most men dress for women,” she says in the most pragmatic way. It makes sense that they’d want a female stylist’s input on their outfits.
“It's almost like an artist when they’ve found their sound, I've found my niche in a sense, like how to shape an artist’s style. Just bringing that individuality,” Fatima explains. “You can naturally have this talent and you may not even be aware of your technique, your method, so now I feel I'm fully aware of how to style an artist.”
“Teamwork comes into play with everyone, including the artist, the photographers, and the assistants.”
For Fatima that awareness goes beyond working with artists to maintaining a strong team. What do you do when you’re at Paris Fashion Week doing shows with Swae Lee and get word that Meek has a last-minute performance in the U.S., for example? When you can’t be on two continents at once, you need a solid squad. Fatima says there’s no way she could make it through hectic situations like that without her two bicoastal assistants. Indeed, her voice flushes with pride when she talks about being part of “the trio.”
“We've worked together for almost a year now and we have a system going that's kind of like autopilot. I just know exactly what to do, they know exactly what to do,” she says. “I know how to position them, how to get the flow going. They really understand how I work, my expectations and things like that.”
But things don’t always fall into place every time. Part of Fatima’s growth as a celebrity stylist included learning how to assert herself in an industry run by strong-willed men. “Some finesse is involved,” she says, knowingly.
For Fatima, that ability to finesse situations has paid off. With a triple-digit social media following, the stylist is nearly as visible as some of her clients, so it’s surprising to hear that she was a shy kid.
Still, the Harlem native says it was during childhood that she discovered clothes could be tools of communication. Back then, her fashion sense was so striking, it drew people to her, fostering connection from there. And she hasn’t stopped communicating via clothes since.
After more than 10 years in the styling game, Fatima’s still creating magnetic looks that command attention, from Minaj’s Harajuku Barbie to 21 Savage’s custom Dapper Dan x Gucci drip for the Met Gala. But Fatima hopes those looking up to her understand it’s not a solo endeavor. Her goal is to support the client’s vision, not supplant it. “Every artist that I have worked with, I just tried to enhance what they already have going on,” Fatima says firmly.
Ultimately that’s Fatima’s greatest strength. She has the ability to amplify an artist’s style while retaining their authenticity. “I don't try to take away who they are,” she adds. “I just try to bring out the best of who they are.” Focusing on others, it seems, has brought the best out of Fatima too.