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Erykah Badu on Her Legacy of Cool, and the Secret to Her Influential Style

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Orchestrating a fashion moment that will command the Internet for longer than say, fifteen seconds, usually requires a team of expert fashion helpers, and these days, even off-duty rock star looks tend to necessitate the counsel of a stylist, a creative director, and several members of a glam squad. Erykah Badu has never subscribed to that idea; in fact when she steps onto the stage at the Essence Festivalthis week, she’ll likely steal the spotlight in the same outfit she threw on to board the plane.

“I make no distinction between what I wear on the street and the stage; it’s all just my style,” she says speaking from her home in Dallas. “I don’t work with a stylist, and I never plan what I’m going to wear, it’s always an of-the-moment thing.” To illustrate the point she describes what she is wearing in her living room at that very moment: green workwear-inspired overalls that she picked up at Yellow Rat Bastard, the now-shuttered downtown New York streetwear boutique, a pair in which she’s been known to rock the crowds at Coachella.

f course there are few performers on the planet that can make everyday clothes dazzle center-stage in quite the same way that Badu can. Granted, she’s had a fair bit of practice—the 44-year-old soul singer tours roughly eight months out of the year, and has done so for the past eighteen years—and yet there was a fearless, power-of-one-ness about her look straight out of the gate: The towering head wrap she wore on the cover of her debut album Baduizm back in 1997 was a resounding calling card, a radical symbol of black feminine beauty in a male-dominated world of hip-hop and R&B—that continues to resonate today. “I’ve always enjoyed dressing my head, whether it’s head wraps, hats, or wigs, I’m not sure why,” she says. “I think that’s just where my mojo lives.”

Take a look inside her jewelry box, and you’ll find she has a lot of magic at her fingertips too. The ankh rings that she’s worn since the nineties were designed by her uncle, and come finished with all manner of semi-precious stones and crystals which, Badu explains, have special healing qualities. There are the ankle bracelets that she picked up in Swaziland (“because I like jewelry that makes music when I walk,” she says) and the talon-like knuckle-duster rings she designed in collaboration with Lillian Shalom. “Accessories really are everything for me,” she says. “I travel with a black body bag full of them when I’m on tour. I’ll threw in my Yoruba beads, my Maasai beads—and there’s space for six hats in my hat box.” (And if there’s anyone in recent history that can top Pharrell’s millinery game, surely it’s Badu—the hat she wore to the Met Gala in 2014, was the crowning glory to her Givenchy look, and stood literally head and shoulders above her tiny five-foot frame.)

It’s that towering sense of personal style that has put her front and center on the mood boards of designers over the years, including Riccardo Tisci and Tom Ford.

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