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Rococo face masks, sheer tops covered in a cascade of pearls, and ruffled crop tops: these are just a few of the signature items of fashion designer Tia Adeola. The rising talent’s goal is to reconceptualize history through the lens of fashion to include people of color in classical visual narratives they’ve often been left out of, and she does so by looking at classical Renaissance art and distilling the references into clothing. She had her first NYFW show in February 2020, but if her celeb fan base is anything to go by, her talent has mass appeal. Gigi Hadid, Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Cara Delevingne, Kali Uchis, SZA, and Lorde have all worn Tia Adeola in the past—many of them gravitating to the designer’s stunning layered blouses.
“Every time a woman that's out there doing something wears one of my pieces, I feel the same amount of excitement and motivation to just keep going,” Adeola tells Departures. “It’s a reminder that I'm doing something right.”
Adeola has been keeping busy in quarantine. She recently launched her own collection of reusable fabric face masks (with a ruffled, rococo touch) and has also been working on re-launching her own e-commerce website. She’s also been working on a new launch, centered around graphic t-shirts that recontextualize art history to be more inclusive. “There's been a lot going on surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement,” she explains. “And one of my greatest sources of inspiration is art history. I'm exploring injustice and racism as a whole. I went back to my art history roots and a lot of the paintings that inspired me so much. Oftentimes, black people were missing from these paintings. So what I've done is I've taken a lot of these paintings and worked closely with my graphic designer, who is also a young woman of color and we've reworked these images.”
The upcoming launch goes hand-in-hand with her aesthetic, especially the face masks, which have become her bestsellers to the point where she can no longer keep them in stock. In March, Adeola decided to go back to her native Lagos, Nigeria to quarantine with her family. “I was thinking, I'll just be in Lagos for two weeks. But I ended up getting stuck there for four months,” she says. “I was thinking, I'm a creative, I have to use my time. I went back to my art history roots and looked up what a mask would have looked like at the time and thought about how I could modernize it.” The result? Ruffles around the face and playful straps that wrap around the back of the head, without any plastic, so that it’s also comfortable. “You can wear it with a chic outfit. I even saw it with some ball gowns. It's a way to encourage young people to be safe and take precautions.”
Though Adeola’s family is in Nigeria, it’s New York City where she went to college (at the New School), England where she was raised, and Paris where she spent hours exploring art history and museums. Naturally, travel has had a huge impact on her design aesthetic. One of the most impactful moments of her Paris travels happened on a women’s empowerment trip in 2019. “I was at a lunch and talking to someone about Black people being excluded from art history, not knowing that I was sitting opposite the director of the Musée d'Orsay,” she says. “At the end of the lunch, she pulled me aside and said it was a really interesting topic.” The museum had an exhibition centered around the same theme at the time, called Black models: from Géricault to Matisse. “She gave me this huge archive book. It has some of the most incredible paintings I've ever seen with people that look like me. Just being able to travel and collect things like that, I can reference in the future.” Adeola even looked to some of the images in the catalog for her upcoming t-shirt launch.
New York City has had an equal impact on her as a designer. “I went to Nigeria and then I went to high school in the countryside,” she explains. “Coming to New York for college after high school was a huge jump for me. I remember on the first day of school at The New School, I saw kids wearing six-inch platform shoes, pink hair, wearing jackets going down to the ground. It was just a form of expression. The more time I spent here, the more my clothing was a reflection of me, how I felt, and that then ties into my work and my art and just giving me that freedom I would otherwise have not had if I was living in Nigeria.”
As Adeola continues to rise as one of the most talented young designers to watch, she is currently in the midst of deciding what to do for the upcoming fashion week in September. “I’m adjusting to the digital world,” she says. “I don't know what the world is going to throw at us every day, so I kind of take things as they come. My goal is to keep working, keep creating, keep finding ways to inspire and motivate young people and keep them wanting to be creative and artistic and fashionable.”