B. Akerlund doesn't want to be called a stylist anymore. Even though her impressive résumé includes jaw-dropping looks worn in Britney Spears's "Work Bitch," Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," and Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts," Akerlund prefers the title "fashion activist." It makes sense — her 20-plus-year career has evolved into so much more than styling.
In the past three years, Akerlund has become a champion for emerging designers: she built a fashion app, Who You Are, that showcases their work. She also runs The Residency, an exclusive showroom and full-service PR agency based in Los Angeles. Finally, there's Le Snob, the luxury-accessories line she launched last year with creative director Robert Lussier, as well as an upcoming project with Regan Arts called Parental Advisory, a visually interactive book of fashion, art, music, and crafts for parents and children.
Knowing I would be meeting B. at The Residency, I prepared myself to be overcome with emotion at the sartorial works of art on display. After all, this was the woman who transformed Madonna into a gladiator goddess for the Super Bowl and placed live butterflies on Katy Perry's dress for her Harper's Bazaar Icons performance. There was also the issue of what to wear to meet one of my fashion idols. I grabbed something "happy" — my psychedelic vintage mod dress. I would later discover that I unknowingly took B.'s advice and dressed "according to a feeling." I talked to B. about other people's misconceptions about her job, what it was like discovering her own style as a teen, and her "pink phase."
Marie Lodi : Can you tell me about growing up in Stockholm and how it affected your sense of style?
B. Akerlund : Los Angeles is definitely not like this, but in Stockholm, trends are very big. If there's a jacket that's the "It" jacket — the whole country has that jacket. If there's a hat with a pom-pom on the head, the whole country has that hat. You don't really see it here because it's more diverse, but growing up in Stockholm it was very much like that. 501 Levis when I was a teenager — that was it. The more beat-up and lighter they were, the cooler you were.
You were constantly looking for American products and seeking out what you couldn't have. There were very few that stood out in the crowd because everybody had the same everything all the time, and it was certain brands that were in. And as a teenager, you try to fit in. I was always kind of a little bit off, even growing up, because my mother would go shopping in Paris for me and come back with these balloon pants. It was the '80s. You look back through the photos, and I always had a weird outfit on. She loved to dress me up. When I moved to L.A., I was 14, and everybody was wearing Guess jeans with those big puffy socks, which was the total opposite of where I came from. I thought, Oh my God, this is so horrible.
It was the first time I figured out I had my own opinion and was like, "I'm not going to go with the crowd. These jeans look awful on me, so I'm just not going to go for it." That's when I first found my identity, and I started collecting vintage clothing. I didn't have a big budget at the time, so I would just seek out all these really amazing costumes that I started wearing. I won "Best Dressed" in the eighth grade. I was also really shy growing up, so clothes were a way for me to not have to speak. I could just express myself through them. Even today, I dress the way I feel.