- Ty Hunter is one of Hollywood’s biggest stylists, working with Beyoncé and Billy Porter.
- Before he made it big, he dressed mannequins in a Houston mall, where he met Destiny’s Child.
- His new book details how he got his start as the group’s stylist — with help from Beyoncé’s mom.
It was the late 1990s. Bill Clinton was president, MTV still had a hold on music, and Ty Hunter — now one of Hollywood’s biggest stylists — was a soul-searching 20-something who spent his days dressing mannequins at a Houston clothing store.
Hunter never pictured a life filled with red carpets and music videos. But Tina Knowles — the mother of Beyoncé and the creative force behind Destiny’s Child — envisioned his path differently.
Tina often shopped at Houston’s Galleria mall, where Hunter worked. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the other two members of Destiny’s Child, were also regulars, and formed relationships with the budding stylist as he helped them select outfits.
Eventually, the elder Knowles made Hunter a big promise: “I’m going to get you out of here one day.”
Today, the name Destiny’s Child fits Hunter almost better than it does Beyoncé’s former band.
Having worked as Beyoncé’s stylist for 18 years, he’s now the head stylist for the actor Billy Porter.
He’s also released multiple products like phone cases and T-shirts, started motivational speaking, and advocated alongside Barack Obama for the former president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which addresses the gaps in life opportunities presented to men of color.
Released last month, Hunter’s first book, “Makeover From Within: Lessons in Hardship, Acceptance, and Self-Discovery,” is equal parts memoir and motivational guide. In the book, Hunter discusses the hardships he’s overcome, from surviving a shooting to coming out of the closet, and offers lessons from his unlikely journey to the top of the celebrity style world.
Growing up gay in Texas wasn’t easy, but the women in Hunter’s family encouraged his passions
Hunter, who grew up in Texas, says his family was full of strong female role models: his mom, Connie; his grandmother, Mama; his great-grandmother, Mama Bea; and his godmother, Ethel.
After he expressed an interest in fashion, his mother often asked him for styling advice. When she went out — often in Hunter’s recommended outfits — he’d spend hours going thrift shopping with Mama Bea, listening to stories from her youth.
“I’m really blessed that my mom and family members allowed me to be myself,” Hunter said.
But even with that support, growing up as a Black, closeted gay man in America wasn’t easy. He didn’t understand his sexuality at the time, he says, and he struggled to fully connect with his father — a sports fanatic who bonded more closely with Hunter’s brother, Cedric.
Still, Hunter’s father made efforts to connect with him. He took Ty and Cedric to dinner every week, and he once took Ty to a Diana Ross show. The concert — specifically Ross’ outfit changes — inspired him so deeply that it arguably changed the course of his life.
Hunter started experimenting with his own fashion in the eighth grade, and by 15, he was styling his cousins’ hair and clothes.
He loved transforming his friends’ hair and creating unconventional outfits for them with designer pants and blouses from the Salvation Army. Male friends were eager to go shopping with him, and even football players reached out for style advice.
“I’ve always had feminine traits, but my friends — my straight guy friends — allowed me to be myself,” he told Insider. “They just labeled me as ‘Pretty Boy Ty.'”
At the time, it seemed like a hobby. But the thrill of seeing an outfit take a friend from quiet to confident stuck with him.
A shooting changed the course of Hunter’s life
At the same time Hunter was finding himself and his passions, trouble found him.
When he was 20, he attended a party with his coworkers from a company that made heart valves. He later visited a club down the street, where his evening — and life — changed in an instant.
He was approached by two men with guns outside the club, who mistook him for someone else and shot him.
His attackers had attempted to hollow-point their bullets, altering them so that they’d expand on impact and cause more damage. It didn’t work, but the bullet did split. One piece entered Hunter’s thigh and settled in his muscle tissue, while the other kept going toward his groin.
The result could have been disastrous, but his choice of undergarments saved him.
“I used to wear boxer shorts, but I didn’t like the way the print showed through the pants, so that night I wore briefs,” Hunter writes in his book, explaining that his underwear protected his groin. “That’s how fashion saved my life, literally!”
Hunter got to know Destiny’s Child while working at the mall
The incident ended up altering Hunter’s life in more ways than one. After taking leave from his job at the heart-valve company, Hunter moved to Houston to live temporarily with his cousin. There, he took a job at the Galleria, in a boutique called Bui-Yah-Kah.
Hunter started dressing mannequins and creating displays in the store and was later promoted to work on visuals at all six Bui-Yah-Kah stores in the area. All the while, he was offering personal styling help to any customer who requested it.
Those customers included Tina Knowles and the other two members of her daughter’s band, Rowland and Williams. Hunter befriended them all, and he’d call Knowles whenever a unique piece came into the store that she could dress the girls in.
“It was like the older brother playing dress-up with his younger sisters,” he said.
Even after leaving Bui-Yah-Kah four years later to work at Bebe, he stayed in touch with Tina. It was a good thing he did.
Tina and Destiny’s Child visited Bebe one day while filming with MTV, and Hunter happened to be working. It was there that he first met Beyoncé, who told him she’d “heard a lot of good stuff” about him.
As Tina left the store that day, the Destiny’s Child matriarch promised Hunter that she’d help him leave retail for something bigger and better. So when he was feeling down a month or so later, Hunter called Tina and asked if she needed help. She did.
On tour with Destiny’s Child, Hunter had to improvise outfits and fix wardrobe malfunctions
Hunter’s early days working with Destiny’s Child weren’t easy. One of his first jobs with the band was working on the “Survivor” music video, a task that filled him with fear because he’d never before worked on a styling project of that scale.
“Now, fear is exciting to me. When I’m afraid of something, I know that I’m going to persevere and make it over that hump. But I look back and just remember fear,” he told Insider.
As he toured with the band, Hunter learned to improvise. He once made a skirt for Rowland out of a curtain and tablecloth after he left the one she was meant to wear on a plane. He frequently made appearances onstage to fix wardrobe malfunctions.
“If you go through YouTube, you’ll see me onstage a bunch of times, fixing a zipper or something,” he said. “It really helped my stage fright.”
In the sometimes cutthroat world of celebrity fashion, Destiny’s Child were uniquely loyal, he said.
“This game can be real tricky. You could take off sick, send an intern, and they’ll hire your intern,” Hunter said. “I had different celebrities trying to snatch me, too. But there was loyalty and a family bond that could not be broken.”
At times, that found family cost him a closer relationship with his blood relatives.
“I came up at a time where there wasn’t social media — there weren’t even phones,” he said. “I had a pager and kept a bag of quarters to make phone calls, which were expensive when out of the country.”
He specifically remembers being away from his daughter, Trezure, who was born at the start of his career to a woman he’d dated before coming out.
“There were highlights that I missed and I can’t get back,” he said. “It’s a part that people don’t understand. Styling is a great opportunity and career move, but there are a lot of sacrifices that come with it.”
Hunter is responsible for some of Beyoncé’s most iconic looks
If you were to sum up Hunter’s work in photos and videos, you’d see a collection of major pop-culture events from the past 20 years.
Those pink sneaker heels Beyoncé wears in the “Check on It” music video? Those were all Hunter, who cut up a BAPE tennis shoe and a pair of heels and glued them together.
He found Beyoncé the perfect loose-fitting dress to wear on the VMAs red carpet, so she could surprise the crowd by announcing her pregnancy onstage later that night.
He also styled both her and Jay-Z for their On the Run tour and oversaw her Met Gala looks.
More recently, he’s dressed Porter in headline-grabbing attire, ranging from red-carpet gowns to sheer ensembles and umbrella hats.
Still, he said, fashion is just one part of his life. If you look at his Instagram, you won’t see a feed full of designer outfits, but of uplifting memes and inspiring quotes.
Hunter wanted “Makeover From Within” to feel the same way, not just sharing his stories — good and bad — but his major takeaways from each event.
“I didn’t want to do a fashion book,” Hunter told Insider. He wanted to be “raw and real,” inspiring people to believe that they “can make it through anything.”
“My purpose is not fashion. My purpose is making people feel better, uplifting them, and inspiring them. That’s what gets me going day to day.”