As Beyoncé declares on “Nice,” from this year’s Everything Is Love, “I ain’t never seen a ceiling in my whole life.” What she really ought to say is that there’s no ceiling she hasn’t shattered. In her two-decade career, and counting, the pop icon has forged her own way, both musically and stylistically. The latter is in part thanks to Ty Hunter, her longtime stylist who has helped Beyoncé create her visual identity as a solo artist and as a member of Destiny’s Child. Back before her name was a noun, adjective and verb, Hunter along with her mother Tina Knowles acted as their own fashion house, coming up with custom, coordinated looks that are era-defining to this day. If you were conscious in the late ’90s and early aughts, you likely have a favorite: Maybe it was the turquoise-laden orange fringe getups they arrived in at the 2001 MTV Awards, or the green and gold lace outfits they matched in at that year’s Grammys, or maybe even the camouflage they wore in the “Survivor” video, which they recreated for this past Coachella in the midst of Beyoncé’s headlining set? The list goes on.
One of the reasons that Hunter and Knowles looked within for their designs, though, was out of necessity: Back during the early days of Destiny’s Child, there were actually people in this world who didn’t immediately believe in Destiny’s Child — or didn’t care to dress the whole group. “It took ‘Independent Woman’ for people to start looking at the group seriously,” Hunter tells me at Soho House, where he’s celebrating a capsule collection he collaborated on with GREEDILOUS for Hyundai’s StyleNite. Of course, it didn’t take long after that for Beyoncé to become a household name. As she’s branched out and grown, so has Hunter, who is currently working on his own sunglasses line and has been giving motivational speeches in between dressing Beyoncé. Below, we talked to Hunter about her and Destiny’s Child’s journey, the “Crazy in Love” video, and what it’s really like to work with Beyoncé. Spoiler alert: she fully lives up to the line, “I’m so nice, Jesus Christ, I’m better than the hype, I give you life.”
How did you meet Beyoncé? I met Mrs. Tina Knowles years ago in 1999 when she was doing Destiny’s Child. I was working in the medical field in Austin, Texas and I had leave for three months. I needed to figure out my life at that time. I packed up and moved to Houston, Texas. I started doing visuals and window dressing for this store called Buyhkah — you hear it sometimes in reggae songs — and while I was working there the girls’ had “No, No No” on the radio. I met Mrs. Tina, at the time, and she’s the world’s mom. She’s intriguing. You learn so much from her. We just connected. After meeting each girl individually and not being a starstruck person, Mrs. Tina was like, “I’m going to get you out of here one day.” I didn’t believe her. I had a day off one day and called her and within a week or two I did the “Survivor” video.
That was your first styling credit? It was my first styling credit. And I ended up doing the Grammys. That’s how everything started.
How did you help transition Beyoncé from Destiny’s Child into her solo career? I think it flowed naturally. Before Beyoncé, I did Kelly [Rowland] and Michelle [Williams]’s solo careers. I also worked with Solange. Then Beyoncé came. So I was doing each girl. Then I did Destiny’s Child again when they released their next album. They’re like family. We kind of figured it out together.
What kind of direction did you talk about for the solo career? At the time Roberto Cavalli was edgy, edgy, edgy. So I used a lot of Cavalli. Beyoncé’s the type of person who’s not into labels. She’s like, “Whatever’s hot, why not?” That’s what I liked about her. I was able to help a lot of young designers and start their careers, while working for her, like Michael Costello and Rubin Singer. Whatever she feels comfortable in works. That’s why we were able to help a lot of peoples’ careers—and still do.
When I talked to June Ambrose before the On the Run II tour, she told me that it was hard in the beginning to get big name designers on board. Did you have a similar experience? Oh yeah, we couldn’t. When I started, the reason why the girls wore Mrs. Tina so much is because no one would let us pull. It took “Independent Woman” for people to start looking at the group seriously. Sometimes a showroom might say, ‘We only want to style this person from the group.’ So there was a lot of that going on. It was the craziest thing. There were showrooms that had their favorites like, “You can only dress Kelly.” “You can only put clothes on Michelle.” “You can only pull for Beyoncé.” It was like that sometimes. I loved the designers that allowed me to take a chance and show a full story and have their clothes on three beautiful women. But the ones that got it, got it.
That’s cool that they were in it all or nothing and didn’t let anyone divide them up. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to divide them.
What did you think of the reunion at Coachella? That was awesome. I hate that missed it, but I was working on another project. I just love those girls. We’re still family and closer than ever. We always support each other in our own endeavors, and I’m going to always be there for them.
What is your favorite look of Beyoncé’s from the past decade? I know this sounds crazy but my favorite moment was “Crazy in Love.” The tank top and denim shorts. Because they were always so glammed out, we wanted to do something stripped down that the kids could emulate. And everybody did. That was the video when she really transformed into a woman. I cried on the set actually. I’m always so in the moment so whenever I have a chance to sit back and look at her I’m still in awe to this day. I went to the last concert—I did On the Run but didn’t do On the Run II—and, for me to sit in the audience, and see how spectacular she is, Beyoncé is just everything. I don’t have the words for it sometimes. Every time when I think she’s had a win, she outdoes it. It’s an honor and a blessing to be able to work with her.
What is the moment when you saw her transition from a woman into a mother, stylistically? When I put her in the orange Lanvin dress for the MTV Awards. We had been hiding the pregnancy the whole time, and I actually could have hidden it that night because the dress had a panel that hid it. She was beautiful and glowing that night. We were just happy to be able to let everyone know so we didn’t have to hide it [laughs]. That night when she performed “Love on Top” and rubbed her belly and said, “Hello, world,” we didn’t have to hide it anymore.
Somehow she’s upped the pregnancy announcement each time. Yeah, she outdid that last one.
When is the last time you worked together? The LaQuan Smith black and silver striped dress she wore to the Colin Kaepernick event for Sports Illustrated earlier this year. That night I really wanted to use black designers and LaQuan Smith had a dress that was perfect.
Why do you think so many men and women around the world gravitate to the force of Beyoncé? I think she represents the overall package. She’s so talented. She can really, really sing. She can really, really dance. She’s also humble and a very giving person. She’s a Southern girl, beautiful inside and out and it’s hard to find all of those things. Sometimes people have the talent but they’re a nasty person. Or sometimes they don’t have the talent. I feel that she’s the blueprint of success in a positive light.