When Black is King dropped on Disney+ last Friday, we knew we’d get sumptuous visuals, looks for days, a love letter to Black culture, maybe a Mufasa quote or two, and another stunning example of Beyoncé’s incredible artistry. But what wasn’t necessarily anticipated was the amount of independent creatives Beyoncé would raise up during the visual album’s hour and 25 minute run time, many of whom are Black.
In addition to a slew of think pieces dissecting the film as a whole, there were posts such as “Breaking Down Beyoncé’s Best Looks in Black is King” (Paper Magazine) or The Cut’s “Beyoncé Wore So Many Black Designers in Black is King,” which honed in solely on the fashion.
After seeing Dallas designer Venny Etienne, a Project Runway alum and master of modern womenswear with his Levenity label (currently selling cloth masks), among the list of Beyoncé-approved names, I wanted to hone in even further. What is it like to create a piece for such a powerful artist? Do you even know what it’s for or — particularly when that artist has an affinity for surprise drops — when the project will come out?
A Memorable Phone Call
It was September of 2019 when Etienne was reached out to by Zerina Akers, the stylist responsible for Beyoncé’s most recent and perhaps most powerful fashion phase. The Dallas designer was tasked with creating a coat for his dream model to wear in a music video. (In 2015, Etienne posted to social media that his five-year plan included dressing Beyoncé by 2020, though he never really expected it to come to fruition.)
“It was just something I knew was a goal of mine. She’s the perfect example of what my brand represents: a strong woman who has grace and strength and carries it to where we as men really need to just bow down to it. Women are just amazing.”
The designer hired two interns, Aliyah Day and Elena Bajaras, fresh out of Wade College, and promptly asked them to sign a contract before revealing who their work was for. “One of them was like, ‘Who is it Beyoncé or something?’” Etienne recalls. “I told her and she just started tearing up.”
Given the quick turnaround time (they created the coat in just five days), he wasn’t able to take his usual trip to New York to source materials, so he visited a fabric store on Harry Hines where he found the gold floral print tucked away in a corner. “I sent it to Zerina who always knows exactly what she wants, so we moved forward with that no questions asked,” says Etienne, who has worked with the stylist in the past for other clients.
With its cinched waist and dramatic shoulders, the structured coat was sent off to Akers for the unknown project, and Etienne kept a close eye online for anything Beyoncé-related. However, months would pass without any hint of an upcoming music video.
“I was like, Well maybe she’ll drop it for Christmas? Or maybe she’ll drop it before tax time because she wants everyone to have their coins ready,” Etienne says. “Then Covid hit and I was like, This is never going to come out.”
Then, one pandemic day, Akers called the Dallas designer to get some details about the coat. “Beyoncé’s team can ask you questions, but can’t ask them questions — you just do it,” Etienne laughs. “I think I saw the preview for Black is King a week later and was like, Oh my gosh, I think this is it. This isn’t just a music video; this is a statement about Black culture. This is huge.”
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A Milestone Moment
In Black is King’s sea of songs and statement visuals, the vibrant gold and lavender coat is visible only for a moment, but every second counts in a Beyoncé project.
“It was an emotional moment,” recalls the designer, who joined a group of friends for a viewing party that Friday night, just days after the artist posted a directory of Black-owned businesses, which included Levenity. “That out-of-this-world visual just gave a whole bunch of us creatives a boost of the energy we needed. For someone as high as Beyoncé, who could call on any design house to get couture pieces done, to reach out to little Venny in Dallas — it’s a testament to her looking out for independent designers, and I love it.”