Systemic racism is a problem in America. That’s as true now as it was 100 years ago. But 2020’s massive, grassroots protests against police brutality and entrenched structural racism may have marked the beginning of some necessary changes. After all, it was impossible to ignore the largest instances of civil disobedience in American history. Now, at least some institutions are listening to the citizenry’s demands for equal treatment and representation for all people, regardless of skin color or background. And in fashion, which has a long history of excluding Black creators, Macy’s has been among the boldest to respond. In an effort to correct course, the department store is releasing five new collaborations with some of the country’s best Black fashion minds. Enter Macy’s 2021 Icons of Style collections, where the retailer has partnered with five Black visionaries to create capsules reflecting the diversity of its customer base. This spring, Macy’s private INC, Bar III, and SUN + STONE labels will release limited collections created in partnership with trailblazing creators Zerina Akers, Misa Hylton, Aminah Abdul Jillil, Allen Onyia, and Ouigi Theodore.
With the first of these collections coming later this month, Complex checked in with Akers, Hylton, and Abdul Jillil to get their thoughts on creativity, being a Black creator in America, and their advice for those seeking to follow in their footsteps in fashion. Read on to see what they said, and be sure to watch the videos below where the creators have intimate chats with Durand Guion, the Vice President of Macy’s Fashion Office, about their careers and upcoming collaborations. Then keep an eye out for our interviews with Onyia and Theodore coming out ahead of their Macy’s drops in May.
Yes, Zerina Akers is Beyoncé’s costume designer. And yes, Akers did curate the looks for Bey’s Black Is King film. But her career is much more than that, with a history that includes stints at W Magazine and styling for Chloe X Halle and Niecy Nash. Akers has also been featured in Vogue, Forbes, and Essence, where her big ideas and willingness to experiment have created numerous fans. Beyond that, Akers also launched Black Owned Everything, an authoritative directory of Black-owned businesses from the worlds of fashion, beauty, art, and housewares. When Macy’s came calling, Akers put all of that into her collection, creating a maxi dress and a mini dress for its Bar III house label. With that capsule collection releasing soon, Akers recently took some time to tell Complex about her work and what her Macy’s collab means to her.
Akers on Her Macy’s Bar III Collection:
This collection is probably the most special because it is my first design collaboration. Through my styling work, I have designed many things, but never something under my own name. This is very special. I wanted to create things that felt timeless and give them an unexpected twist.
Akers On What Excites Her About Her Macy’s Collection:
I’m most excited to serve as representation for many young Black girls and hold space on such a pillar of a platform here in a country where Black people have had to fight long and hard to be seen and heard. I hope that there are young Black children that can feel seen. When they see me, I want them to see themselves.
Akers’ Advice for Young Black Creatives:
Start doing the work. Your time will come. Work steadily on your craft and when the time comes, get uncomfortable. Go for the things that scare you, it’s the spaces of the uncertain and the unknown that will propel you forward.
You may know Misa Hylton as a stylist, but she calls herself a “fashion architect.” Looking at her work with clients like Lil Kim, Mary J. Blige, and Missy Elliott, it’s easy to see why. Hylton does more than compile outfits, instead constructing holistic identities for her clients using clothes as a medium. She’s also a teacher, sharing her talents with students at her Misa Hylton Fashion Academy and teaching courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Of course, she brought those skills to her work with Macy’s, creating a dress, blouse, and pants for the company’s own INC label. Ahead of that ready-to-wear collection’s drop, Hylton was kind enough to share some of her knowledge with us.
Hylton on What Makes Her Macy’s INC Collection Special:
The parts of my creative process that I put into my collection make it special to me. I love the bold colors, the Asian prints, as well as the gold details. Gold is a staple in hip-hop fashion and I am excited to have that influence in this collection. My designs vibrate on a high frequency. They bring happiness and excitement to the people who see them and to the women who wear them.
Hylton On What Macy’s Means to Her:
Macy’s means family to me. It’s close to my heart because it was one of my Nana and father’s favorite stores.
Hylton’s Advice for Young Black Creatives:
Remember all things are possible. Believe in yourself. Be courageous and trust in divine timing!
Aminah Abdul Jillil
In 2019, Essence named Aminah Abdul Jillil its “Accessory Designer of the Year,” singling out her shoes for their unique perspectives and experimental constructions. But when you look at Abdul Jillil’s background it’s no surprise that the footwear she makes is unique. Unlike most designers, Abdul Jillil began her career as a professional dancer, working with Janet Jackson and Cirque du Soleil, before turning her creative talents towards making shoes. That background, as well as her dancer’s eye for function, make Aminah Abdul Jillil shoes unlike any others on the market. And in her work with Macy’s, Abdul Jillil’s unique perspective shines through, producing a sandal and a boot for the company’s INC line unlike anything the retailer has stocked before. In advance of that collection’s release, Abdul Jillil sat down with Complex to discuss her upcoming footwear collection and why it’s important for Macy’s to support Black creators.
Abdul Jillil On What Excites Her About Her Macy’s Collaboration:
This collaboration is exciting to me because it means for me, personally, that dreams come true. That hard work pays off. That being different and not like everyone else is okay. This is the first time I’ve partnered with a brand of this caliber. Macy’s is iconic and for me to be recognized or acknowledged as a designer they’d like to know and introduce to the world is so very exciting for me. It’s a huge honor.
Abdul Jillil On Her Favorite Design From Her Macy’s INC Line:
I really love the Zitaly Heart Heel because for me it’s everything that a woman wants in an accessory. It stands out with its unique shape. It’s extremely bold with an oversized gold ornament heel. They’re so beautiful to look at and really make you feel confident and sexy when you actually put them on your feet.
Abdul Jillil On Why It’s Important for Macy’s to Support Black Creators:
I think it’s great for anyone to want to support and celebrate passion, hard work, individuality, and diversity no matter what package it comes in. Fashion has a place for everyone.