Misa Hylton: Innovator, Revolutionary and All-Round It Girl

By Rianna Wilson

Likely, you have never heard of Misa Hylton before, but if I told you to think of the infamous purple jumpsuit Lil’ Kim wore, or Mary J. Blige in her Not Gon Cry music video, or even the brown MCM bodysuit Beyoncé wore in the Apes*** video you’d know what I was talking about. The incredibly talented Ms Hylton is the mastermind behind all of those looks and more. So who is Misa Hylton, and why don’t we know her name?

Misa Hylton attends the 2018 Tribeca Studios and MCM Sneak Preview Of Women’s Hip Hop in NYC.

Since the beginning of time, Black people have been the blueprint. We are the trendsetters, innovators, and trailblazers. However, often it seems we are not credited for our ideas and innovations. Our names are left out of mainstream history books; we are overlooked and eventually forgotten. 

That seems to be the case for Misa Hylton. Born in New York in the 1970s, Misa always had a passion for fashion. She first pursued her love of clothing and style at the young age of 17. Her friend Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy/P Diddy) asked for help on a music video for an R&B group he was in charge of at the time – Jodeci. At that time, R&B singers were known for their formal wear in music videos. Suppose you think back to the old 80s and early 90s music videos. In that case, you’ll notice that (male) artists were often in (incredibly baggy) suits and top hats. R&B had an air of sophistication and formality. Misa decided she was tired of that aesthetic. Inspired by her love of hip-hop, she had a vision for the Jodeci video that moved away from the status quo. Misa wanted to put the group in combat boots and hoodies. Now, this may not seem so outlandish to us sitting here in 2022, but in the 90s, this was unheard of. Music executive Andre Harrell initially rejected Misa and Sean’s plans; he thought the pair were out of pocket for even considering it! But they fought for their idea, and eventually, Andre agreed. You can see the fruits of their labour in the Gotta Love music video.

Lil’ Kim at the 1999 VMAs. This iconic look was styled by Misa Hylton who styled many of Lil’ Kim’s most iconic and stylish looks.

Misa’s work on that video created a new aesthetic in the world of R&B fashion. She gained many more clients in the industry. These musicians, producers, and other artists wanted a new, cooler look. But arguably, her most important work is what she achieved with women in the music industry. Being a woman in any industry can be a rough time, but being a Black woman often adds an extra layer of adversity. Misa regularly worked with Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim, helping them find their place in a challenging industry. Mary J. Blige had been known for her signature bandana, and baggy tee look. Growing up as a self-proclaimed tomboy, combined with the fact that she was breaking out into a male-dominated industry, these were the clothes she felt most comfortable in. After meeting Misa Hylton, Mary explored her look a little more and made it more feminine whilst still being comfortable. Lil’ Kim was a very talented artist in the heavily male-dominated world of rap. During the 90s, many female rappers opted to wear baggy clothing to try and fit in with their peers, but Lil’ Kim decided to go against the grain and instead use her femininity to her advantage. With the help of Misa, Kim was able to show that women are allowed to be sexy and talented, and that one didn’t hinder the other. Of course, her most iconic look was the purple pasty jumpsuit worn to the 1999 MTV VMAs, but another iconic look was the Crush On You music video, once again styled by Misa. In this video, every scene featured a monochromatic look, where Kim was in the same colour from head to toe, literally. This had never been done before, and I’m sure others on Kim’s team were sceptical at first, but the video ended up being a huge success, and the look has been recreated many times since then.

Lil’ Kim, Mary J. Blige, and Misa Hylton – long time friends in fashion, music, style, hip-hop, and Black womanhood.

These two stories are an essential part of Misa Hylton’s legacy. They show how imperative it is to have Black women in the creative industry, helping other Black women reach their full potential. 

Misa Hylton is an integral part of Black cultural history. Her work deserves to be recognised – loudly!

For more information on Misa and her work, we’d recommend The Remix: Hip-Hop x Fashion on Netflix. The documentary shows just how talented this woman truly is and how much she had on both the music and fashion industries.

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