Aaliyah’s Stylist Derek Lee Talks About Creating Her Most Iconic Outfits
Before Aaliyah passed away, Lee says they started talking about where they wanted her style to go. Lee was leaning towards making Aaliyah look like an anime character, but in a way that read “modern badass superhero” as opposed to the costumed comic book character, and mixing those references with elements of Afrofuturism.
“She was really into it because she was into Japanese culture at the time and liked the idea of looking futuristic,” Lee explains. Aaliyah was also working on a Japanese-inspired fashion brand called Dolly Pop with her close friend Kidada Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones.
I ask Lee if he would ever use this concept for anything else and he immediately says no.
“It was well thought out and it was ready to go. And it was for that particular person. And since that particular person isn’t there, they disappeared,” says Lee.
BET documented the making of “Rock the Boat” in the Bahamas for its Authorized access the series not knowing that it would be footage of Aaliyah’s final days. There’s a scene where she and her glamorous crew, which included Lee, Foreman and makeup artist Chris Maldonado, enjoy some downtime by the pool, laughing with Aaliyah as she showed off her yellow bikini and tie-dye sarong. . “I eat it,” Aaliyah says. As Maldondo and Foreman joined Aaliyah and six others (Anthony Dodd, Scott Gallin, Keeth Wallace, Gina Smith, Douglas Kratz and the pilot, Luis Morales.) on the small plane that would crash, Lee decided to stay behind to A few days. He remembers hearing the news while riding his scooter and thinking it was a joke.
“I couldn’t believe that God would take away so many people I loved at once without me feeling it. You would think you would know the moment it happened. As if something left your body. And it didn’t happen that way and it sort of haunted me,” Lee says. “I was driving around on my scooter and they said, ‘Yo bro, the plane just crashed.’ And I was just like, ‘Fuck you. There’s no way.’ I even said it out loud. And they were like, ‘No, man it’s true.’ And I was just like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ “
He thought getting back into the rhythm of things distracted him from his grief, so he took a styling job from Christina Milian for the “Get Away” music video with Ja Rule, which was filmed in Paris. But he soon realized that he was no longer ready to do his hair. “As soon as we started shooting near the Eiffel Tower and after dressing it up, trying on things and being in the trailer, I kinda snapped. I was like it was too fresh and I needed a break,” says Lee.
Eventually, he moved to New York to be closer to his family and partied to cope with the pain. “I fought for about two years and had all my friends around me to help me. I moved to LES in a nice apartment with a garden. So the party was still at my house. It was great fun, but it was bawdy,” he says. But he eventually got back to work, trading shifts with his mom on B. Smith’s TV show, B. Smith Stylewhere he met Lil Kim, with whom he worked for her the beautiful mafia album and video “The Jump Off”. Lee says he was trying to make her look less designer-oriented and evolve her into more personalized looks. He worked with Joe LeGrand on pieces like the Adidas jumpsuit she wore, which they made from an extra large men’s leather tracksuit. He says he dropped the ball with a pink Gaultier look. “I can admit I failed on that one,” Lee says.