zana bayne, the designer behind beyoncé's 'lemonade' leather bra, on four years of collaborating with queen b
She’s created custom pieces for world tours, music videos, and that iconic Super Bowl halftime show. Now — after spotting her custom pieces in Lemonade — we catch up with New York’s leading lady of leather to find out what it’s like working with music...
Since launching her eponymous brand in 2010, Zana Bayne has brought the best of bondagewear from behind bedroom doors to the street. Her strappy, sculptural chokers, cuffs, belts, bustiers, and harnesses have become wardrobe staples far beyond the thriving nightlife scenes and gritty subcultures that first inspired their creation. And Bayne has a serious knack for collaboration; she worked with Marc Jacobs and Comme des Garçons, and has produced custom pieces for everyone from OG punks (Debbie Harry) to pop princesses (Taylor Swift). One of her biggest fans? Beyoncé.
After conducting a last-minute fitting backstage at the Barclays Center for the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, Bayne and the highly skilled members of her atelier have since worked on six projects for Queen Bey (that have been released, anyway — who knows what they're dreaming up now). Zana's pieces — strong and sexy silhouettes designed for bodies of all shapes and sizes — have featured in music videos like "Grown Woman" and on stadium stages around the world. If you were one of the 111 million people who watched the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, you'll have seen the Queen's forces outfitted in Bayne's custom harnesses in perhaps the most daringly political performance in NFL history. So when we spotted some of her pieces in Lemonade, we wanted to learn more about what makes Bayne and Bey's collaborations so special.
Tell us about the first time you worked with Beyoncé.
The first custom project that we did was at the very end of 2012, working with stylist B. Akerlund to make military-inspired asymmetrical white leather harnesses for her dancers to wear during a promotional video for the 2013 "The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour." When the tour made its way to New York in 2013, stylists Ty Hunter and Raquel Smith reached out to me to produce our "Bat Belt" design in 11 different colors of leather, plus one entirely covered in hand-applied cobalt-blue Swarovski Crystals. To make sure that the pieces fit correctly, Todd Pendu [Bayne's creative partner] and I were asked to come to Barclays Center before the show to conduct a quick fitting with Beyoncé and were subsequently invited to watch the show stage-side. The encounter was incredibly cool and the show was beyond! The belts didn't end up being worn for the concerts, but they were used in the video for "Grown Woman," as a part of the Beyoncé visual album.
Your work has appeared in videos, but also in live performances. Does your process change with the nature of each project?
Working with musicians and performers has been a core part of the brand since the beginning, but I don't think people realize the amount of planning and work that goes into making pieces for live performances. We always take into account the necessity for movement and ease of wear. Is it a quick change? Will there be dressers to assist? Will the artist be dancing? Will there be any dance moves on the floor? How much time do we have to make the pieces? The most recent commission we did was for Beyoncé's Formation Tour, which just started. We made these beautiful dusty pink leather harnesses with hand ruffled leather components which needed to really stay put as the dance sequence is pretty intense — they are performing and splashing around in a bed of water. We decided it would be best to size each piece per the dancers' individual measurements to make sure there was literally no wiggle-room.
How do the commissions usually evolve? Is there a lot of conversation or sketching before the project takes shape, or more like "we need something in five days"?
I've found that every stylist works differently. Some present a fully realized idea, and others are so vague that we'll have to guess what they're after until they start getting more specific. One of the things I love about working with Marni Senofonte [Beyoncé's stylist since 2007] is that she has an incredibly eclectic vision for her styling, so the references are always multi dimensional. Each project begins with sketches, sometimes it's the first idea that ends up being created, sometimes it's the twentieth. In an ideal situation we would have weeks to develop and produce, but usually we are lucky to have four days from design confirmation to shipping the finished products. I am incredibly proud of our staff, who have time and time again conquered these 'impossible" production timelines. There are several scenes during Lemonade where Beyoncé's dancers are wearing custom harnesses that we made with hand-ruffled elements. There were 30 harnesses in total which we made in the atelier in six hours to be sent to set that night. I don't think anyone took a breath or sat down the entire time.
The Super Bowl harnesses were major, and obviously rooted within a very specific historical moment. How did you dive into those iconic Black Panther Party aesthetics?
When we were first told about the inspiration of the Black Panther Party for the Super Bowl halftime performance we were pretty impressed because it's not the narrative one would expect for such a mainstream event, but that's one of the things that is so great about working with Beyoncé through Marni — taking risks without fear. I was especially drawn to the concept because when I was growing up in Seattle I was friends with the daughters of Aaron Dixon, who was the original Captain of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party in the 60s. It made it incredibly important to me. The leather components that we created really needed to stand out and project strength.
Tell us about the piece Beyoncé's wearing in Lemonade.
The "Bullet Bra" that Beyoncé wears during Lemonade is actually from Collection V, which came out originally in 2012. That portion of the video was also styled by Marni, but I didn't know that the piece was an option until we were watching Lemonade on HBO when we were in Stockholm. It was around 3:30am European time and we were slightly delirious, but just very surprised and excited. The piece itself is one of our signature shapes, which is inspired by 1950s pointed brassieres but transformed into something which can be worn literally as lingerie or layered over clothing to add a graphic element to an outfit.
It seems like we're seeing Beyoncé evolve notions of power and womanhood with each new release. What role you see leather playing that vision? Where do your ideas of power and bodies align?Wearing leather is a little like wearing a kind of armor; it produces a strong feeling of protection in the wearer. The idea is always to project toughness, badassness, power; so our ideals very much align with Beyoncé and her ever growing vision. Our pieces have always been made for all women and all body types. It's something that is very important in our design process and creations.
Text Emily Manning
Image via Lemonade