Between Elvis’ blue suede shoes, Michael’s military jacket, or Madonna’s bustier, it feels as though music has always been synonymous with fashion. But that hasn’t necessarily always been the case. Prior to the ubiquity of female singing supernovas, the genre was more often perceived as the big screen’s crude cousin, too obnoxious to be uplifted by couture—which meant the stars and their stylists needed to bend the rules to make their mark. Misa Hylton snapped them altogether.
Introduced to upcoming music artists in the mid ’90s via her boyfriend, an intern-turned-A&R at Uptown Records by the name of Sean Combs, Hylton was just 17 when she began to bridge the gap between the two industries. At a time when fashion houses had little interest in dressing women of color, particularly those occupying the urban space, Hylton made the likes of Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim icons. The latter, whose remarkable small stature (Lil’ Kim fits a child’s size 12 and a size four-and-half shoe) meant she often had to resort to wearing Hylton herself’s designs, and in doing so became one of the most sought-after style sensations in music—overhauling expectations and paving new paths for celebrity stylists.
As one of hip-hop’s leading ladies, Hylton has since worked with the likes of 50 Cent, LaLa Anthony, and Remy Ma, as well as lended her expertise on projects with Beyoncé and Billie Eilish. She is a creative partner with MCM, founded her own fashion institute, and recently celebrated the release of The Remix: Hip-Hop x Fashion, a documentary that celebrates her contribution. Below, we caught up with the legendary creative to hear some legendary fashion stories, and learn what our generation is missing.
Tell me about the early origins of hip hop’s entry into the fashion scene.
“It was a movement. We all wanted to be edgy and unique, and so did the artists. At the same time, we were at the beginning of formulating these really strong images. The creativity was out of this world. I think that’s why people try to emulate that period; it’s recreated and reinterpreted over and over.”
I know you were dating Sean Combs at the time, and that’s how you were introduced to the music industry, but could you have predicted fashion as your career?
“No, definitely not. I was in the right place at the right time. Hanging out at Uptown Records was like modern Motown. The music was booming and there were so many opportunities. When I started working with Mary J. Blige on her first album it felt real, but I really knew I was creating a legacy when I started working with Lil Kim.”
It feels as though Cardi B might be making a play, but there’s really no female rapper whose style has been able to hold a candle to Kim’s.
“She is. Period. Hands down. And the synergy that we had was like no other. She was like a gift from God. Everything I wanted to do she connected with. I was able to bring it to life. It was a literal match made in heaven. We were these two young women creating together, doing it for the culture. For the music. There was a freedom there; it was like we existed in our own little bubble.”
Music has notoriously given women a hard time, have you noticed a shift in that recently?
“I’ve noticed a shift. It takes a long time to dispel that energy that’s been holding us back and implement new ways. If one group of people are held back, we’re all held back.”
Is there an outfit or a process behind one of Kim’s outfits that’s particularly memorable to you?
“It depends. Sometimes it was the video or the video treatment that we would take to different levels, but we were just so tapped into creating. We loved color and fur and high-end brands. It was always a combination of what was available on the market and what worked with the music. We were constantly telling a fashion story.”
There’s so much discrimination in fashion—it’s historically prejudiced against minorities. Did you struggle to be taken seriously by those luxury brands in those early days?
“Absolutely. It was a challenge, but where there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity. I didn’t have access to showrooms, but it pushed me to design to create what I wanted. But by the time I made my mark with Kim everyone wanted to dress her, but nothing would work. She wore a kid’s size 12 and a four-and-a-half shoe. But that pushed me back to designing. And if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be with MCM today. But there was no such thing as “street style” back then, so even what we wanted wasn’t available.”
It must be so strange for you know seeing how streetwear has infiltrated high-fashion.
“Yeah definitely, but I love it. It tells me we are becoming more open-minded, that we’re going in the right direction. Fashion is no longer stuffy. Streetwear isn’t dressing down anymore, fashion has embraced what’s hot.”
I know you are a big fan of Gianni Versace for how he linked fashion and pop culture. Are there any other designers you feel really connected with?
“I’ll always feel connected to MCM, which has a woman at the helm and everything she stands for I love. Together we did Beyonce’s “APESH*T.” Those moments stand the test of time.”
What about your career do you think will best stand the test of time? How do you define your own impact?
“That’s a good one. I really have to take that in. I see my style influence everywhere, not just in music but the fashion world at-large. I’m also a teacher and a giver. I want to share my wisdom to generations to come.”