‘Bel-Air’ Costume Designer Gives a Nod to Original Series But Creates New Trendy Looks for Reimagined Cast
The second season of Bel-Air, the dramatic reimagining of the hit ‘90s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is in full swing, and so is the fashion.
Every Thursday, the cast is dressed in fashion-forward looks, starting in episode one with Jabari Banks’ Will wearing a purple-and-red suit from Grayscale, the luxury Los Angeles-based fashion house worn by stars including Nope’s Daniel Kaluuya, The Woman King’s Viola Davis and NBA player Kyle “Kuz” Kuzma.
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Like the original, the Bel-Air characters use their fashion as a form of self-expression. Will Smith is the athlete from Philly who likes to dress in urban wear as a nod to where he’s from. Hilary Banks is the classy and polished girl boss of the family, and Carlton Banks is the outwardly prim and proper student, who wears only pants that stop above his ankle. In this 21st century version of the show, the cast puts a modern spin on their attire with the leadership and creativity of costume designer Queensylvia Akuchie, who joined the Peacock series for season two.
“A big part of my costume design for Bel-Air was just culture and Black culture,” she says. “From the upbringing of where we’re all from, from our communities, from our environments, culture means so much to everyone. In this sense of the world, I wanted cultures to transcend through community.”
The designer creates mood boards and pulls fashions from multiple locations, including Los Angeles, the United Kingdom and Africa, to curate and bring each character’s look to life. By doing so, Akuchie says her goal was “making sure that we stay true to who Will was and making sure he wore brands that were from Philadelphia and West Philadelphia,” including Philly native rapper Meek Mill’s Dream Chasers brand and luxury streetwear line Milano Di Rouge. “I used a lot of Black designers for everyone, and I just wanted to make sure that those who would not have had the opportunity to have a leg on this platform, did.”
Some of the actors embraced their own backgrounds to stay authentic to the style of their characters. Banks, who like his character Will, is from Philadelphia, channeled that “Philly style” in the way he wears his pants and his hat sideways. “I didn’t want to just kind of play on the fact that he was from Philly,” he says. “I wanted him to actually be from Philly, so let’s dive deep into what that looks like now.”
Singer and actress Coco Jones plays an influencer and mogul-in-the-making in this new take on Hilary Banks. As the oldest child in the Banks clan, and someone who is coming into her own womanhood, “she uses her fashion in a way of showing how you can be a boss without having to look stereotypical,” Jones says. “She wears a corporate style without fitting into a box. It kind of shows that [she] can be professional while being herself.”
In every episode, Hilary is seen in bright colors and charismatic ensembles like classic Chanel-inspired tweed two-piece sets, trendy figure-flattering garments and custom-made dresses — one being inspired by an $80,000 runway dress. “Queen Akuchie measured my body and created the dress from scratch, picked out the colors,” she says. “I got to see it come from an idea and inspiration to a full outfit.”
Creating completely different outfits that depart from what the original cast wore was a part of Akuchie’s plan to embrace the newness of Bel-Air and separate the ‘90s comedy sitcom from the modern drama. “It’s certain things that carry over [like Will’s Jordans and designer shoes], but certain looks we try to stay away from just so we keep them singular, as individual as we can,” she says. To keep the audience connected, she makes nods to the original characters such as with Hilary’s hats and headbands, and Smith’s best friend Jazz’s sunglasses, but she doesn’t recreate the exact same outfits.
Akuchie brings season two’s new characters, like fashion “It” girl and influencer Ivy (played by Karrueche Tran), to life onscreen through costume. “She is very much dripped in the latest designer stuff,” Tran says. “She’s one of the girls that’s able to afford the nicer things and the name brand things and the Louis bags, Gucci bags, Brandon Blackwood. She always got to have a look, always got to be done up.”
Akuchie’s intentionality in setting each character apart through their fashion aesthetic gives the cast their own distinctive flair onscreen. “[Ivy’s] got to come with it every single time,” Tran says. “That’s why she is able to dominate in her world because she taps in, she checks all those boxes off: hair, nails, her bag, her earrings, her shoes, you know, everything has to coordinate and complement each other regardless of if she’s going to get some Starbucks.”
Part of getting each character’s style right is embracing their uniqueness and the tailoring of their outfits, a process Akuchie says is a creative space for her and her team. “Most things are custom-made as well if it’s not just tailored,” she says. “We come in for the fitting, and everyone comes in for an hour to two hours, just trying on clothes and getting pinned [to] fit them precisely.”
While precision and cuts are important, Akuchie is also mindful, as a costume designer, of the reemerging trends of today, including the ‘90s fashion during the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air run. Popular at that time was the hip-hop apparel company FUBU, co-founded in 1992 by Daymond John. The brand was featured on Bel-Air when Jazz wore a throwback white and blue FUBU jersey in episode two. “It’s something that is nostalgic about seeing how you wore clothes and the silhouettes that they were dressed and styled back then, how it’s coming full circle now,” the designer says. “But also putting the modern spin on it. … It kind of changes, but it’s all the same.”
With the fashion trends of the 2020s throwing it back to the ’90s, Banks says a style he would like to see his character recreate is “crop-top Will,” referring to when the Fresh Prince’s Will wore a gray Philadelphia 76er’s crop tee with green sweat pants and a black cap in the series’ first season. Crop tops were a bold fashion statement men made in the ’80s and ’90s that represented masculinity. “Some people were wearing crop tops, but I think it was cool to wear a crop top on TV like that,” the actor says. “I would do something like that too because it was fresh to me.”
As for the rest of the cast, Tran says their “outfits are giving” during the remainder of the season until the final episode airing on April 27. And with their moods manifesting by way of their outfits, Akuchie says the fashion will continue to get better. “Your emotional state, what you’re going through in the story, it connects with what you wear and how you’re wearing the color,” she says. “I love color, I love vibrancy, I love showing multidimensional colors on black skin, brown skin.”