Lil’ Kim (née Kimberly Jones) burst onto the music scene in 1995 as a fly Brooklyn girl who flaunted her femininity in the male-dominated rap space. Though she rose to popularity working with both Notorious BIG and her rap group Junior M.A.F.I.A, it was her debut solo album Hardcore (released the following year in 1996) that cemented her as a force, vocally and visually. To date, some of Lil’ Kim’s most iconic looks can be seen in her 1997 “Crush On You” video, which featured the rapper decked out in designer goods that matched the colors of the various scenes in the video. Today, rap lovers recognize her influence the minute they see it — and she knows it.
During ComplexCon, Lil’ Kim discussed her impact on fashion with her longtime stylist and friend, Misa Hylton, and Complex’s deputy style editor, Aria Hughes. “The 'Crush on You' video really introduced me to the fashion industry,” Lil’ Kim said. “It set the tone for my career.” Then Lil’ Kim ticked off the designers who have said they’re inspired by her and her stylist: Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, and even the late LGBTQ icon Hector Xtravaganza of House Xtravaganza who used to make her furs.
When Hughes asked both Lil’ Kim and Hylton if they get the credit they deserve for the way their vision has shaped the industry, Lil’ Kim simply replied to the audience: “I’ll let y’all answer that.”
What makes Lil’ Kim’s impact so interesting is unlike most artists and stylists, she and Hylton never worked directly with brands, instead purchasing the pieces that they wanted to wear. That meant their vision was authentic — but left them without a way to gauge how Lil’ Kim’s looks were being received by the industry. That is, until she met Karl Lagerfeld, who told her he’d designed an entire collection based off of Lil’ Kim’s outfits. “That made me like, wow, the impact goes that far,” Lil’ Kim told Complex. “But a lot of designers have said that to me, including Alexander McQueen.” Marc Jacobs, too. Now Lil’ Kim counts him as a close friend, with limited-edition Louis Vuitton bags to prove it.
“He was the first designer to embrace me,” she remembered of Jacobs. “Everything I wore was either Chanel or Louis Vuitton. He just kept inviting me everywhere. I would bring him lunch to his showroom,” she continued. “He’d be dancing to [my song] ‘How Many Licks’ — that was his song. Marc taught me the inner workings of the industry.” Lil’ Kim said she also learned a lot from John Galliano. At the time, when Galliano was the creative director for Christian Dior, he and Lil’ Kim were in talks to create something together. “Dior was my favourite line and still is to this day,” she explained. “He understood me.”
Considering Lil’ Kim’s influence on fashion, one would think she'd be a sure bet for the Council of Fashion Designers of America's annual Fashion Icon award, given most recently to Jennifer Lopez (2019), Naomi Campbell (2018), and Franca Sozzani (2017). Rihanna won the award in 2014, and credited Lil’ Kim as one of her biggest inspirations. “There are a lot of '90s supermodels that I love and I’m inspired by — but Lil’ Kim, for me, she had so many different looks,” Bad Gal Ri Ri said in 2015.
That same year, Rihanna channeled Lil’ Kim at the iHeartRadio Awards for the first televised performance of “Bitch Better Have My Money” wearing a green fur coat with matching thigh-high boots and sunglasses. Rihanna is a chameleon when it comes to her style, but that’s Lil Kim’s impact. We wonder, respectfully, how Rihanna won before Lil’ Kim.
Lil’ Kim said she still has hopes of designing a line of her own one day, but both she and Hylton are appreciative of the stylists and artists who continue to pay homage to them. The rapper also said she is aware of the active campaign pleading with the CFDA to acknowledge and honour her lasting influence with the Fashion Icon award. “Thank you so much for that,” she said. “My fans are beasts and I love you guys to the heavens. Whether that happens or not, I’m going to keep stepping and doing what I do in fashion and being fly. That’s never going to change. I love clothes.”