Beyonce’s latest chart-topping album hit stores less than a month ago. But it is not the singer’s music that has the fashion world buzzing. The artist’s fourth album, titled 4, features a fold-out cover that looks more like a glossy fashion magazine spread than a record sleeve.
As with other leading pop divas like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry, fashion has always played a big role in Beyonce’s artistic persona. In her music videos, she uses outfits to take on different roles, while onstage, revealing ensembles spice up her live performances. The difference this time is in her choice of designers. Instead of sticking to major fashion houses like Versace, Gucci, Prada or Chanel, the singer has thrown the spotlight on a number of up-and-coming designers whose names are likely to be unfamiliar to all but the most die-hard fashion followers.
Beyonce’s creative director, Jenke-Ahmed Tailly, along with the singer’s stylist, Ty Hunter, pointed her in the direction of these designers. “The album is a musical gumbo of everything Beyonce likes,” Tailly said in a phone interview. “Each song really has a different personality, so we decided to do the cover like an editorial for a magazine, with each song having its own style.”
The album’s cover image illustrates the singer’s embrace of under-the-radar creators and features Beyonce wearing a fox-fur stole by the cult French designer Alexandre Vauthier embellished with Swarovski crystals by the Lesage embroidery house. Vauthier’s work also shows up inside the foldout cover, as does a pair of Daisy Duke shorts by the young French designer Julien Fournie, who founded his brand only three years ago.
Even student designers got a look-in: Lleah Rea, who just received her BFA in fashion design this spring from Parsons the New School for Design, created a form-fitting bodysuit for the album spread.
“It was important to Beyonce that the choice of clothing not be about the brand but about the quality of the work,” said Tailly, who, with the creative consultant Melina Matsoukas, brought Rea’s designs to the singer’s attention.
For the “deluxe” version of the album, which features extra songs and remixes, a photograph of Beyonce in a purple-and-black beaded dress by the 27-year-old French designer Maxime Simoens replaced the fur stole as the cover image. On the back of both versions of the album, the singer is photographed in a vintage Azzedine Alaa jacket and some gravity-defying high heels by the 36-year-old Dutch designer Jan Taminiau.
Having Beyonce wear their creations has already helped these niche designers garner a higher visibility on the global fashion stage.
Vauthier, for example, has seen his collaboration with the singer evolve. For her appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in Britain last month, Beyonce wore a gold minidress by Vauthier, chosen at the last minute over a planned ensemble at the suggestion of Beyonce’s husband, Jay-Z, the designer said. Worn with a wide belt and a pair of black hot pants, that outfit helped generate a lot of interest in Vauthier.
“I dress women who have something to say,” said Vauthier, who clothed Rihanna for the cover of her single Hard, and whose designs have been worn by the pop singer Roisin Murphy and by Sophia Loren and Isabelle Huppert.
Tailly, Beyonce’s creative director, said that the singer’s quest to collaborate with new artists did not end with the clothing. Beyonce also tapped the young French photographer Greg Gex, alongside renowned photographers like Ellen von Unwerth and Tony Duran, to shoot the cover art.