British Vogue's December 2020 Cover Story
It was always going to be special. How could it not be? And yet I’m not sure I could have predicted how having Beyoncé – an icon of music, fashion and culture for more than 20 years – on British Vogue’s cover this month would finally come to pass.
As I logged on to my laptop one evening in early autumn to oversee the 12-hour shoot more than 3,000 miles away, in New York, I felt the thrill of the new. It was the culmination of months of preparation. “It takes enormous patience to rock with me,” Beyoncé Knowles-Carter wryly notes in our interview on the following pages, in a rare and rounded glimpse into her world. But let me tell you this: rocking with Beyoncé is electric.
Our creative discussions began during the early days of lockdown, and an idea quickly took shape. Social justice, a pandemic – it was clear that this was the moment for something extra. As we all know, it has been an extremely tough year for fashion, and so we wanted to create a no- holds-barred celebration. Who, after all, has the ability to elevate and excite like Queen B? And so we approached some of our favourite designers, who each made a custom piece for a 20-page extravaganza with a purpose: to uplift an industry.
Everyone from Alexander McQueen to Oscar de la Renta, Westwood to Burberry, Fendi to Christopher John Rogers, jumped at the challenge. Ever meticulous with her collaborators, Beyoncé – like me – wanted to work with a black female image maker, and we settled on the gifted artist and photographer Kennedi Carter, a bright talent who hails from the American south, like her famous subject.
Although Beyoncé prefers to let her work do the talking (as she has this summer with her extraordinary visual album Black Is King), she knew this was a moment to speak. And speak she does, on everything from the recent racial and social justice movements, to her personal legacy, fascinating creative process and much-loved fashion label, Ivy Park, as well as life at home with husband Jay-Z, and children, Blue Ivy, eight, and three-year-old twins, Sir and Rumi.
Throughout it all, Beyoncé told me she had a very important goal: she wanted to have fun. Fun can feel like a radical act at the moment, but, at 39, she is a woman in her prime, happy in herself, happy in her body – and able to claim the power of that. In the middle of the madness that has been 2020, you will see that above all Beyoncé wants us to remember the rebelliousness and impact of a simple concept: joy.
Edward Enninful: Beyoncé, what an honour to have you grace our covers. How was the shoot experience with Vogue, and did you love all the custom pieces?
Beyoncé: First of all, I am so happy to be working with you. I’m a big fan of all you do. The shoot was fun, and I loved the custom pieces that were created. I still can’t believe you stayed with us on Zoom for the entire 12 hours.
What joy has fashion brought in your life this past year? Do you still love to dress up?
During quarantine, fashion was a place of escape for me. My kids and I came up with “Fashion Fridays”. Every Friday, we would dress up in my clothes or make clothes together and take each other’s pictures. It became a ritual for us and an opportunity to laugh off this crazy year together. The newest Ivy Park collection was inspired by this new tradition. It consciously uses bright, bold colours to remind us to smile. I used a lot of neon yellow and coral mixed with baby blue and earth tones that felt soothing. They brought me joy and made me smile in the midst of a tough time for all of us.
The colours do indeed invoke joy. What else should we know about the collection?
It’s an honour to have Ivy Park featured in British Vogue. Thank you. Ivy Park is all in the details, and fit is extremely important – the waistline falling at just the right spot to be flattering to the body, extra stretch panels across the stomach to give you a flatter tummy. Sporty suiting is a staple, and oversized coats in cool, lightweight fabrics round it out. My vision for the collection is that it is fun, functional and fashionable, with athletic options that you can wear to the gym, then to the night club, from playing basketball to voguing at the balls. The goal is to be infinitely inclusive from style to size.
I want to turn your attention to your seminal visual album, Black Is King. It is a powerful example of how culture can help to shape a societal shift – how did you begin your work on a project of such magnitude?
It started out simple, in my backyard. I wanted to do one or two videos for The Gift album, then it just grew. Before we knew it, we were shooting in Nigeria, Ghana, London, Los Angeles, Johannesburg, and KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where we filmed with the women of the Himba tribe. It took an incredible group of creatives from all around the world, and so many of us were of African descent, telling a part of our own family’s story and its hidden history. Black Is King was a huge production that employed a large number of brilliant artists who may not typically see themselves working on a Disney project. Until now!
Black Is King distilled so much about what was happening in the world. And you chose to share your spotlight with such a varied and fascinating group of fellow artists. How does someone get on Beyoncé’s radar?
I try to work with people who push me to become a better artist and human. I love creating a bridge for talented artists who wouldn’t typically work together. It’s bringing together all those perspectives and experiences that creates great storytelling. I believe great art is discovered when you are consistent, a hard worker, and combine that with vision – your gift finds its home at some point.
Why is finding undiscovered talent so important to you?
Not everyone has the opportunity to be hired to work at Vogue or to direct a film or create a clothing line, and that is attributed to the lack of diversity in the room. I’ve been focused on changing that mentality with my projects. I’ve invested 100 per cent of my earnings into making sure we had the best people and production on the film because I know that the level of quality any production needs can be found in a diverse crew. You and I know it exists. I am hoping this film will show that we all have to make a conscious decision to look into untapped talent in multiple and diverse communities.
Fashion is obviously such a powerful element in the project, as well as in your life and career. How did you go about making your fashion choices for it and what was the intent?
It was important that we worked with African designers, and the wardrobe amplified key themes in the film such as black opulence and excellence. The fashion displayed a range of culture and heritage. The way we used colour to transition from one emotion to another was intentional and symbolic. One of the best parts of this whole film was the collaboration and mutual respect of African-American creatives and creatives from the African diaspora. Shooting the film was absolutely an adventure. I performed in the belly of sand dunes and I floated in the middle of the ocean. I landed on mountains to swim in waterfalls. Filming at Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon will forever be one of my favourite locations.The Havasupai tribe were gracious and allowed us to film there, which had never been done before. I’m so honoured they made the exception for us and this project. It was a beautiful experience.
Being of Ghanaian heritage, I was of course excited to see your work celebrating African culture so thoughtfully and passionately. As an African American, how do you see yourself and your work in relation to the global black community?
Shout out to Ghana! We shot there for the “Already” video. We worked with Shatta Wale and the choreographer Dancegod Lloyd. I am doing what my family has always done in celebrating and uplifting the black community. We are investing in young people’s education with college scholarships in the US and job training with our BeyGood programme in South Africa. I’m also proud of the work we’ve done through BeyGood and the NAACP to support black-owned small businesses that would not have been able to survive this year.
Can you give me some insight into your creative process?
I choose to invest my time and energy only in projects that I am passionate about. Once I’ve committed, I give it all of me. I start with identifying my intention and making sure that I am aligned with the collaborators for the same purpose. It takes enormous patience to rock with me. My process is tedious. I review every second of footage several times and know it backwards and forwards. I find every ounce of magic and then I deconstruct it. I keep building more layers and repeat this editing process for months. I won’t let up until it’s undeniably reached its full potential. I believe my strength is understanding how storytelling, music, lighting, angles, fashion, art direction, history, dance, and editing work together. They are all equally important.
You have been such a vocal advocate for change, offering your support during a tough time for so many families, especially those who have disproportionately suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been inspirational. How do you see your work as an artist and the way you use your voice in activism spaces working together?
I try to think of the most productive way I can help. I was able to work with my Church in Houston, Texas, my mother and Jack Dorsey , to set up testing for a lot of Houstonians, especially those in economically challenged areas, who more than likely had no access to testing at the time. I worked with a local hospital in Houston, supported them with supplies and whatever they needed to best treat those infected. It was heartwarming to see the photos from the testing sites and to read the letters from the people who were high risk, due to pre-existing health conditions, who were able to recover and return home safely from the hospital. I was fortunate to help even more people with funds raised from the “Savage” remix with Megan Thee Stallion. We donated the proceeds to support Covid-19 victims. I did the same thing with “Black Parade.” It’s been a year of service for me.
You have spent a considerable portion of your creative life working to elevate black, and specifically African, voices. Why has this mission been so important to you?
Something cracked open inside of me right after giving birth to my first daughter. From that point on, I truly understood my power, and motherhood has been my biggest inspiration. It became my mission to make sure she lived in a world where she feels truly seen and valued. I was also deeply inspired by my trip to South Africa with my family. And, after having my son, Sir Carter, I felt it was important to uplift and praise our boys and to assure that they grow up with enough films, children’s books and music that promote emotional intelligence, self-value and our rich history. That’s why the film is dedicated to him.
Do you feel changed as a person by the events of 2020, and if so in what ways?
Absolutely changed. It would be difficult to experience life in a pandemic and the current social unrest and not be changed. I have learnt that my voice is clearer when I am still. I truly cherish this time with my family, and my new goal is to slow down and shed stressful things from my life. I came into the music industry at 15 years old and grew up with the world watching, and I have put out projects non- stop. I released Lemonade during the Formation World Tour, gave birth to twins, performed at Coachella, directed Homecoming, went on another world tour with Jay, then Black Is King, all back to back. It’s been heavy and hectic. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on building my legacy and representing my culture the best way I know how. Now, I’ve decided to give myself permission to focus on my joy.
Have these months perhaps also changed you as a parent? How do you talk to Blue Ivy about current events, and what is your advice to parents in the same position trying to impart the hard realities of our time to our children?
I have become a better listener. Blue is very smart, and she is aware that there is a shift, but it is my job as a parent to do my best to keep her world as positive and safe as can be for an eight-year-old. My best advice is to love them harder than ever. I let my daughter know that she is never too young to contribute to changing the world. I never underestimate her thoughts and feelings, and I check in with her to understand how this is affecting her. She saw some of the reactions to the “Brown Skin Girl” video, as well as some of the videos from the philanthropic work I’ve done this year. When I tell her I’m proud of her, she tells me that she’s proud of me and that I’m doing a good job. It’s teeeeeew much sweetness. She melts my heart. I believe the best way to teach them is to be the example.
You have created successful films and produced global concerts, not to mention the incredible culture-shifting albums you have released. As a businesswoman and artist, what makes you most proud?
Owning my films, clothing lines, and masters is important to me. Your songs, your image and the way you conduct business do not have to be created from a commercial point of view, or a male point of view. You can decide what success looks like for yourself. Being number one does not mean better quality. And commercial success certainly doesn’t equate to being impactful. Cultural currency is invaluable.
Beyoncé, we all believe you can do everything. Is there anything you cannot do?
I’m always losing my phone in my house or office and I never know where my keys are. My phone is always dead. I get days and dates confused all the time, but guaranteed, I’ll remember every detail of a conversation, what you were wearing or how your hair was styled. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
This I must know – what is your favourite Texan delicacy?
Wow. That’s tough to pick one favourite. It’s good eating in Texas! I love Cajun seafood at Pappadeaux. The barbecue in Texas is mmmm. So is the Mexican food and the soul food. We ate soul food every Sunday after church. There was nothing better than when a little bit of candied yams got on your oxtail and macaroni.
What is something I would find surprising about you?
I know it’s random, but I have two beehives. Real ones. I’ve had them at my house for a while now. I have around 80,000 bees and we make hundreds of jars of honey a year. I started the beehives because my daughters, Blue and Rumi, both have terrible allergies, and honey has countless healing properties.
So, you really are the Queen B!
And finally, what will Christmas look like this year for you and your family, and are you looking forward to it? What’s your favourite family tradition?
My twins are three and now they are old enough to understand Christmas. I love Christmas. We decorate cookies and ornaments. We also collect ornaments with everyone’s favourite things. We decorate while jamming to Christmas music. Blue leaves milk and cookies for Santa and always leaves the most beautiful letters for him. We get up early and open presents and then we have a big lunch with all of our family. I love the joy and wonderment of children on Christmas. It makes me feel like a kid.
Beyoncé photographed by Kennedi Carter, styled by Edward Enninful, with hair by Jawara and colourists Rachel Bodt and Shirley Gordon, make-up by Francesca Tolot, nails by Mo Qin, set design by Stefan Beckman, and lighting direction by Stephen Wordie.
With thanks to Beyoncé’s personal stylist Zerina Akers, Marni x Marni, her tailor Tim White and publicist Yvette Noel-Schure; Parkwood Entertainment creative director Kwasi Fordjour and creative producer Lauren Baker; Satellite414 founder Carl Fysh; Travis Kiewel and Roberto Javier Sosa for That One Production; and Vogue entertainment director-at-large Jill Demling.
The December issue of British Vogue is on newsstands on 6 November.