For fashion designer Tia Adeola, it’s all about the ruff. Sixteenth century regalia—elegant silhouettes, corsets, the ruffles—are revitalized with her signature mesh fabric and vibrant color palettes for her brand, Slashed by Tia. Starting with an internship with designer Ituen Basi in Lagos, Nigeria when she was just 12 years old, Adeola had her first solo NYFW show in 2018, held in Manhattan’s Church of the Ascension. Her designs have been worn by style icons like Gigi Hadid, SZA and Kali Uchis, to name a few. Behind the scenes, she aims to unearth people of color’s place in the Renaissance period with her designs. We sat down with her to discuss her role as an innovator, a learner, and how she hopes people will feel when they put on her ruffles.
Where do you pull inspiration from for your art? I’m very inspired by the Renaissance period. I’m a bit of an art history nerd. I studied it in high school and I wrote my final dissertation on 16th century Spanish dress in paintings. When you’re writing a 30-page dissertation like that, you have to sift through so many archives of paintings, and I noticed that there were hardly any women of color in these paintings. If there were, they were a slave or a jester or something of the sort. I wanted to take that Renaissance theme and put a modern twist to it, particularly for women of color. So, with my clothing, you see a lot of ruffles, which in the 16th century were called “the ruff.” Only royals would wear it—it was a symbol of your status in society, so the higher or bigger your ruff, the more noble your family was. With every Slashed by Tia campaign, I think to myself, how can I keep this Renaissance theme, make it modern, and include women of color? I wouldn’t say I take my inspiration from anyone in particular, but I take it from an era. I try as much as possible to stay away from Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, when I’m looking for inspiration. I always like to go back to real history, because I feel like that’s the best way for me to be as original as possible. I’m working on a new collection and I’m slowly shifting towards the French Revolution, because it brought about people like Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers. He was half black and he basically revolutionized literature and he doesn’t get that much recognition for it, and his skin color isn’t talked about. During that period, you see a lot of corsets, pearls, and I’m shifting into that currently.
How has your process changed from when you first started Slashed by Tia? I started the brand when I was a freshman and I just graduated, so for one, I’m a lot more confident and vocal. I’m a lot more curious. When I started, I would stick to the painters I knew and had studied in high school. When I was in Paris last month I went to the Musée D’Orsay, and when I was there the director of the museum happened to be with us. I started telling her that I was interested in the French Revolution, expressing my concerns about the missing history of people of color. Her perspective is completely different from mine and there was a lot to learn from her. She gave me this incredible book, Le Modele Noir, that I haven’t put down. Inspiration will definitely come from that, because it has images of people of color that I never saw or knew existed. Before, I never used to ask questions. Three or four years ago, I never would’ve walked into the museum and expressed my concerns about people of color missing in history. As much as I’m looking to innovate, I’m also looking to learn.
How do you distinguish yourself from the rest of the world, particularly on Instagram? I just made this dress that I call the Court Lady Dress, and it has a ruffle going down the middle, ruffled sleeves, ruffled bottom. If it was longer, I’m pretty sure it could be worn during that time. But my clothing is mesh. It’s always an interesting and exciting challenge to take clothing that’s see-through and still make it art, and make it not tacky. With social media, people want to see a good picture. For me, I try to think about what I haven’t seen, what hasn’t been done. I did a shoot last summer in Coney Island when I was re-releasing my skort sets. You’d never expect clothing like that worn at the beach. I’m in NYC surrounded by amazing creatives, so it’s not just me and my vision, but the people I work with. I went to the New School, so I was always surrounded by artists, people who really get it. When you have a team like that, you’re bound to come out with good content.
What’s your outlook on Instagram right now? It’s a bittersweet feeling. Social media is a beautiful thing, I’ve found some of my favorite models, make-up artists, the best hair stylists, all through a DM. It has definitely given me opportunities, people have reached out to me who I probably would have never been in contact with otherwise. But at the same time, it makes room for bigger companies with bigger budgets to take from people like myself who actually sit down and put thought and effort into what we do. That’s the bitter aspect for me.
What effect do you hope your designs will have on those who wear them? When I’m getting dressed up with my friends, I always think, this may sound a bit corny, but I want to look and feel like a goddess. That’s my thought process every single time I get dressed. I want girls who put on my clothes to get that exact same feeling that I get. I feel like I have been successful to an extent. There’s no better feeling than fitting someone, or dressing one of my models for a show, and they look in the mirror, and they’re like, shit, I feel royal. I feel like a goddess. That’s what it’s all about for me.