Another key point of entry for Ackie was the remarkably meticulous wardrobe assembled by Charlese Antoinette Jones, the costume designer who had a breakout moment last year (and earned a handful of award nominations) for her work on Judas and the Black Messiah. Delving into Houston’s outfits over the decades, they were able to identify—and understand more deeply—the dichotomy between her private and public lives. “After looking more closely we saw those two very different sides to Whitney,” Ackie explains. “There’s what her friends and family called Nippy, her nickname when she was out of the public eye, which was a lot more chilled and down-to-earth: jeans and a tracksuit, all of that. And then you have Whitney Houston on television screens and on stage, in these beautiful, sleek dresses and sequins.”
It was the latter persona that also ended up offering Ackie and Jones a lesson in fashion history. “It was fascinating, everything from the fashion to the hairstyles to the makeup trends—even the eyebrow trends!” Ackie recalls. “It all kind of helped me to place her in a specific time and at a specific moment in her journey.” Indeed, the more Ackie and the costume team considered Houston’s place in pop-culture history, the more they realized just how much influence she’d had on fashion. “A lot of her outfits look really classic for the time that they were in, but that’s partly because so many people dressed like her,” Ackie explains. “Bringing to the forefront Whitney as a fashion icon was definitely a goal.” As for Ackie’s personal favorite Houston looks? Those would be her classic formula of a leather jacket, white tank top, and high-waisted jeans during her days as an ’80s ingénue, or the golden Marc Bouwer gown and bejeweled turban she wore to her 1994 performances in South Africa honoring Nelson Mandela. “She just looked so regal and beautiful,” Ackie sighs of the latter look.
It makes sense, then, that for the I Wanna Dance with Somebody premiere tonight in New York, Ackie and her stylist Nicky Yates turned to one of fashion’s most extravagant (and offbeat) purveyors of high glamour and glitz: Daniel Roseberry of Schiaparelli. But there’s also a sentimental link to the house of Schiaparelli for Ackie, who studied textiles at college and even considered a career as a dressmaker if acting fell through. “My first ever fashion show in Paris was the Schiaparelli couture show just before lockdown, and I was so nervous, as I’d never been on the front row of anything before,” she says. “I was so aware of the history of Schiaparelli, and when I got there and the models began walking down the runway, I got really emotional because of the music and the clothes, and I started crying.”