Derek Lee is the last surviving member of Aaliyah’s legendary glam squad.

He’s the sole keeper of the memories and intimate conversations shared between the artist and the team that made her look and feel her best. That team also included hair stylist Eric Foreman, who died in the tragic plane crash that killed Aaliyah in 2001 (he was 29), and makeup artist Eric Ferrell, who passed away in 2020 at age 50.

They all worked together to produce Aaliyah’s timeless yet innovative looks. Foreman expanded on her signature side swoop bang with soft waves, curls, and ombre-dyed ends. During an era of over-plucking, Ferrell perfected Aaliyah’s arched eyebrows and gave her everyday, relatable glam, but pushed her to be experimental—who can forget the orange eyeshadow, blue eyeliner and orange streaked lip from the “We Need a Resolution” music video? And Lee elevated Aaliyah’s tomboy aesthetic by creating custom pieces and utilizing designer items, mixing street with luxury long before it was commonplace for women in the mainstream.

“We were very tight-knit,” says Lee. “Synergy is the best word for it. We were all at the right place at the right time. And it’s funny. That synergy is like a drug. I chased that thing for a while until I finally gave up on it.”

Because of their synergy and Aaliyah’s vision, twenty years after her death their work still guides how people aspire to look today. Yes, celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Keke Palmer, and Zendaya have worn some of her outfits as Halloween costumes, but Aaliyah’s style choices changed the way women dressed on a day-to-day basis then and now. Her image also still impacts business. MAC released an Aaliyah makeup collection in 2018, and KITH recently partnered with Aaliyah’s estate on a capsule collection.

“When you think about the ‘90s when Aaliyah first came out, there was this reign of super models like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. Then you had this renaissance of streetwear brands like Triple Five Soul and Ecko. And what made Aaliyah so wonderful is that she stood between those two worlds in a way no one else did,” says Kathy Iandoli, author of Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah. “I don’t think that half of the young girls today, unless they discovered Aaliyah, realize every stitch of clothing they wear is directly inspired by her.”

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