Misa Hylton is the stylist and designer to thank for putting Lil Kim in seashell nipple pasties at the 1999 VMAs. Hylton also dressed Mary J. Blige in hockey jerseys from Paragon. There was R&B quartet Jodeci in luxurious street regalia long before streetwear became ubiquitous. Though all these artists were singularly gifted, each carefully manipulated their image—with the aid of Hylton—to widen their moment in the spotlight.
Like the cyclical nature of fashion, Hylton’s work continuously floats back to the surface—the colored wigs, extreme eyelashes, and Kira-Kira-worthy glittering that interpolates Instagram and Tumblr feeds can all be traced to Hylton’s craft.. She’s worked studiously to create the dreams of all those who love music. She’s has helped mold both our stars and, by proxy, our wardrobes.
While styling and designing is still important to her, now 40, she’s focused exclusively on schooling the next generation at Misa Hylton Fashion Academy. A place where aspiring stylists can enhance their skills, the academy helps mentor the next brave renegades to rewrite the rules of style. As for her legacy? Let’s look back at her six most venerable style moments.
G-Dep ft. Diddy & Black Rob, “Let’s Get It”
MISA HYLTON: The concept was crafted by Director X—he wanted to explore fashion-forward looks but everything had to be black and white. That was the theme. I immediately thought of standard baseball uniforms but wanted to something more swagged out. From bandanas, wristbands, to bucket hats—I knew it needed to be ghetto fabulous and flashy. At the time, Dapper Dan was still on the low at the time and he created the custom Fendi snorkel suits. Paying homage to Harlem, there is nothing more legendary than a snorkel. The Fendi snorkel was done in black and white, with black fox trim around the hood. We made three variations and one just for the lead dancer, Naima. It worked perfectly for the dance-off with Diddy. I had free range to really create whatever I wanted; without color you really have to think critically. How do you fill space with movement, with life, with action? You get to really play but you have to work to make it hot and make everything pop. There was so much freedom with the treatment.
Mary J. Blige, “Everything”
HYLTON: Hype Williams shot the video in Hawaii. This was a dream and a nightmare at the same time. It was the best because we were truly in nature: no special effects, no CGI. We were truly in the middle of the ocean. We were really in the black sand, really in the mountains. But it was extremely dangerous. During the boat scene there were sharks in the water. It felt like an episode of Survivor. Only God saved us but we got through and it was so beautiful. We wanted to explore and pay homage to Indian fashions. The gold gown and matching jacket was created by Norma Kamali and all the other pieces were custom. Because there was only Mary in the video—no extras, no dancers—I wanted her to contend with nature.
Q-Tip, “Breathe and Stop”
HYLTON: Q-Tip loves being out of the box, he loves risks. Immediately I thought of creating custom leather ponchos. We trimmed them with feathers, Native American beading, and fringe. This look spiraled into a huge moment. Everyone wanted a poncho. When they ended up in a Sean John fashion show with custom DeanZign and Nija furs it was over. For the women, we wanted them to be sexy and stylish. It wasn’t only about stretchy garments. From the makeup to the accessories, every girl could hold her own. They each had a head-turning look. In those days it was easier to create without limitations. That’s why people love the ’90s so much—we were creating it! We didn’t think about social media or likes, or what could be read as debauchery. Don’t get me wrong, there was criticism … but we were received first by our community. Any outside stereotypes weren’t prevalent at that time. It wasn’t thought of as racy. All the women were dressed.
Foxy Brown and Jay Z, “I’ll Be”
HYLTON: In the beginning of my career, it was a challenge to pull looks. Certain brands like Walker Wear, Cross Colors, Karl Kani, Girbaud, and Patricia Fields understood our culture and made things easy. But high fashion wasn’t as easy to navigate. We would get clothes from them and then have the money to buy from high-end. Most of the looks were purchased. That’s how it was. For this video, the mood was glam, high-end, but still swagged out. What was better than a gown with cutouts? That was iconic. Her skin was showing and we added a plush Mongolian fur. That took it over the top. Even with Hov, we added funky Chanel glasses with his suave suit. That’s really where high versus low started. Our artists having something relatable and aspirational is what really made them superstars.
Missy Elliott, “I’m Better”
HYLTON: When you’re working with Dave [Meyers] and Missy, there is no telling where you’re gonna end up. They come up with the ideas and Jai Hudson and I worked them out. There was an underwater scene where we wanted the dancers to be high-fashion fish. They have scales and yellow strings but you almost miss it because it’s not literal or kitschy. Angie Stone, who does Missy’s hair, thought of long ponytails to be used like a harness. Immediately I knew we needed a flight jacket that flared with over-the-knee boots. Another jacket was from DSquared2 and extra feathers were added from Stinson Haus. That vibe was militant and sexy.
My favorite scene is when the dancers fall into the water with the clear hoodies and clear glasses. That was so much fun. Missy loves to do things you would never normally do. For her, it’s still the ’90s method of creation—trying to make something different. It’s a collective effort with hair and make-up. From the black bangs, to the patent leather lip, we wanted to push everything to the edge but still maintain beauty. Sometimes we have conversations for nearly a month, just to make sure everything lives up to the dream. Missy keeps every look from every video. If she hasn’t already done so, she’s creating an archive in her home.
Lil Kim, “No Matter What They Say”
HYLTON: For this treatment, I had a lot of freedom to fill in the blanks. Lil Kim couldn’t fit anything. She was kid size 11/12 and a four and a half shoe. That’s how I got heavier into designing. With my assistant Lonnie Barnes, we really wanted to go beyond any expectations. We did the “I Love New York” bustier with the gun holster that created this sultry yet hard moment. The pinstripes gave us gangster. In the closet in that metallic dress she serves full glamour. That was inspired by [Old Hollywood actress] Dorothy Dandridge and then there’s the Marie Antoinette homage. We went hard with the denim look … It’s crazy because all those looks look current now. The shades, the wigs, the lashes—they’re all looks that you see on Instagram. At that time showroom shopping wasn’t a thing. Anything I dreamt we either had to buy or make. Kim trusted me. After every fitting she was ecstatic. We had a long run of hit after hit. It was a dream team.