The stylist behind Beyoncé's most debated look

Story highlights

  • Ivorian stylist Jenke Ahmed Tailly was the creative force behind L'Officiel's anniversary cover shoot.
  • Enlisting Beyoncé, the pop star became one of the few black women to grace the cover in its 90 year history.

(CNN)When Jenke Ahmed Tailly styled Beyoncé for the cover of France's most prestigious fashion publication L'Officiel - it was unprecedented.

Tailly, a creative director, and stylist, told the magazine he would only accept the shoot if he could put a woman of color on the cover.
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    "It was in their 90th anniversary," Tailly told CNN. "In 90 years, there were only two or three black women who have graced their cover."
    While on board with the idea, the magazine was keen to have someone who could sell advertising and was well known in France. They suggested Halle Berry, he wanted Beyoncé.
    The concept he delivered proved controversial. The stylist who is originally from West Africa wanted to pay homage to his heritage and more importantly - African women.
    "They were not really sure the idea of African queens for a Parisian magazine would really work," he says. "But I was so determined with the idea."
    One of the shots, in which Beyoncé's face appears to be darkened sparked debates about "blackface". "It wasn't blackface," explains Tailly. "It was paying homage to African queens." Overall the cover was a resounding success. "It's about color", beams Tailly, "because I feel like African women have this elegance of mixing colors like no one else can."

    Gangs of Africa?

    L'Officiel's "Gang of Africa" issue featuring Iman, Ajak Deng, Ciara, and Solange.
    Fast forward some five years and the stylist is once again creative director for the title. This time overseeing an entire September issue dedicated to Africa as guest editor in chief. Dubbed "Gang of Africa" by the fashion title and featuring the likes of Iman, singer Ciara, as well as model Ajak Deng. Its theme is 'black beauty matters.'
    Tailly has also served as Beyoncé's creative director during which he's bagged himself A-list clients such as Kanye West and more recently, Kim Kardashian. Born to a Senegalese mother and Cote d'Ivoire father, the stylist grew up in the Ivory Coast. He started his career as a model (shot by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz) before various stints as fashion editor and consultant. He now splits his time between Paris and New York.

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    Diversity, he says is still important to him, especially when it comes to mixing cultural influences and traditions. "I'm just fascinated by my culture and I feel so privileged to be able to share it," he says.
    He acknowledges that the industry is slowly moving in the right direction. In 2015, for example, Rihanna became Dior's first black spokeswoman and face of its Secret Garden campaign in which the star runs through the Palace of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors in a viral video."Is it enough?" he asks, "absolutely not, but we're getting there."
    "When I started my career, there weren't a large group of diverse women," he reflects. "It was so bionic, it was so one dimensional."
    Being able to put African girls in his shoots has helped a little in that journey. "Diversity is a really huge part of my work...I don't know if I could do my work without it."