Celebrity Stylist B. Åkerlund Talks Working with Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Her Style Icon

Celebrity stylist B. Åkerlund
Photo courtesy of B. Åkerlund
Celebrity stylist B. Åkerlund.

B. Åkerlund’s work defines itself as uniquely distinctive and, when looking through images of her career’s illustrious history, it is clear why major stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga have chosen to work with her time after time. Married to famed video director Jonas Åkerlund, B.’s talent and hard work have landed her a client list that any stylist would envy, including Britney Spears, Fergie, Madonna, Lady Gaga and more. While collaborating with such opinionated divas may intimidate some, B feels that their input leaves her invigorated with a greater understanding of what she wants in her career. The true signs of an impressive stylist!

From what I know of your biography, you’ve admirably worked your way up from the bottom, even doing some unpaid jobs. Do you think this idea of so-called “paying your dues” has made you a stronger stylist in a notoriously tough industry?

For sure, nothing in life is for free and having a Polish mother, growing up and learning the essence of hard work and starting from the ground up is part of my DNA.

How did you develop a decisive eye to instinctually know that something works or it doesn’t?

It is not a development, rather a feeling that comes from within. I believe that you are either born with it or you aren’t.

How would you describe your personal style and do you feel that influences the jobs you take on?

My style changes from time to time and I would say that it all comes down to my mood. I used to be more colorful in my day, but with age and marrying a heavy metal Goth King everything has changed to more black!

madonna superbowl

Photo courtesy of B. Åkerlund

Madonna performing at the 2012 Super Bowl.

Who is your personal style icon?

Anna Piaggi.

You really veer away from the traditional, and your work has the B. Åkerlund stamp on it. Would you be willing to style in a more traditional red carpet way—i.e. a ball gown and diamonds? Or do you feel that would be too stifling?

Sure, but it would just have to be the right ball gown and the perfect diamonds. Anything is possible, but to me I love a story and a concept and if that is taken away I get bored and you lose me quickly.

But at this point in my career, I don’t really get those calls unless there is someone willing to take a risk or make a statement on the carpet.

While other stylists rely heavily on their assistants, you are involved in every aspect from pulling to fitting. Does your dedication to each individual client have something to do with your unique aesthetic and vision?

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I like to be 100% involved and if I feel I can’t I usually pass on the job.

You’ve worked with the three major pop divas of today: Lady GaGa, Madonna, and Britney Spears. How do you stay creatively inspired and separate each job from another?

They are three very different personalities with three strong opinions so there is no similarity in any way. Each artist comes with inspiration and it usually spirals from there and turns into a concept.

Any other dream client?

Grace Jones and Prince.

Given the fact that most of your clients have enormous personalities and visions of their own, how collaborative is the styling process when approaching an event or music video?

Everything is a team effort with everyone creatively involved. I love making artists' visions come alive in a collaborative way. The collaboration is key between a stylist and artist to ensure their vision.

You have worked with my idol Madonna for years—how did you begin working with her and were you incredibly nervous to be working with such an icon?

I started working with Madonna in 2006. My first job was the music video “Sorry” and our relationship has escalated from there. I don’t get nervous working for anybody, more so she gets my blood pumping to be better at my job.

When you do a major job like the Super Bowl where you have to source 500 costumes, where do you even begin? How do you wrap your brain around what’s to come?

It was a very long and collaborative process with Madonna and we worked from the group up, beginning with inspiration boards, that later turned into sketches and then reality.

For some reason I really loved the challenge of the Super Bowl, and it felt a bit un-human and unrealistic to accomplish. That made me even more motivated to make it the greatest show on earth!

B.Åkerlund did just that—creating a spectacle that featured Givenchy Haute Couture, Fausto Puglisi, Bulgari and much more. Working with someone so creatively involved and refined has been, without question, the highlight of my career.

Rory McDonough is a freelance stylist and fashion editor. His styling work has appeared in indie mags like Oyster and Russh. He is the fashion editor of the Plum Network where he worked with celebrities such as Naomi Watts and Christy Turlington-Burns. Most recently he worked with stylist B. Åkerlund on Madonna’s halftime performance at the Superbowl.

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