Ade tackles the important issues surrounding race in the industry and the importance of female representation.
Known as Yara Shahidi’s ‘power’ stylist, Ade Samuel has built a stellar career which has seen her become one of the most respected women in the industry.
Carving her own niche and using her platform, Ade tackles the important issues surrounding race in the industry and the importance of female representation. Though far from ‘home’, home is never far from her thoughts as she shares her vision for the dawn of a new day in Nigeria’s creative space.
In her metallic pink mules and striped Mara Hoffman sundress, Ade Samuel is pretty hard to miss as she strides towards the Pulse office. In her husky New York lilt, she greets us warmly.
I am instantly hit by her energy, it radiates and Ade’s appeal is instantly recognisable. She’s the cool girl next door. The chick you couldn’t decide if you want to be like or be friends with.
There’s something absolutely effortless about Ade, she’s authentic and perhaps that’s an important part of her journey, the reason why this stylist-cum-fashion designer has seen her career elevate in leaps and bounds. Citing Wouri Vice and Oprah among her mentors, Ade’s own career is thriving, from working with ‘blackish’ and ‘grownish’ star and the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic, Yara Shahidi and one third of arguably the most popular girl group in the world, Kelly Rowland.
Falling in love with fashion
I’m keen to know what drew Ade initially to the world of fashion so much so that she was compelled to leave her mark on it. She says, “I’ve always loved fashion, I remember being 9 and literally taking composition notebooks in school and drawing stick figures and I always remember that as the beginning phases of my love for clothing, fashion. Coming from Nigerian descent, I always tell the story of my Grandmother being a tailor and always a creating a lot of clothes. She was a tailor and when we were home for traditional parties for my Mum, I fell in love with our traditional clothing, the patterns, the lace. My earliest memories when I was around 9 was just seeing clothes, seeing fashion and seeing magazines and always finding some sort of relation or connection with them. That really was the start of my love to it.”
Trusting the process
The fashion industry is one industry that it’s important to ‘earn your dues’ before your career can really take off. Interns are quite arguably, the backbone of the industry worldwide and countless young men and women find themselves assisting and shadowing in order to gain a good sense of the inner workings of it. Ade has been vocal about her start as an intern and I really want her to drive home the importance of starting in such roles.
She is visibly passionate about how useful they are and talks about making sure her own interns and assistant understand that it’s a pivotal part of the process.
She continues, “Internships are super important. I always tell all my interns and assistants that it’s the quintessential part of becoming a stylist or working in this industry. When you’re interning, you’re learning things that they don’t teach you in school, that you can never imagine learning. I went to school for fashion and there were so many things that I picked up interning. My big break at Teen Vogue came from an internship. Before Teen Vogue, I was at other places. I interned in fashion PR, I interned at Diane Von Furstenberg, I worked at W Magazine and Rag & Bone and a bunch of other places. Then I started to realise that my love for fashion was more in styling and I gained a lot of experience working for magazines.”
“So, when I went to Teen Vogue with my internship I had no idea that they would even look at me to hire me. It was just me working hard. I remember going in during the holiday and everyone was like I’m leaving’, and because I’m from New York, I was like ‘I can stay!’. So, being a part of that culture of hard-working interns and putting my foot in the door and really working hard is that showed everyone my capabilities and the reason I got hired at Teen Vogue.”
As glamorous and seductive as the world of fashion, it is an industry, a billion dollar one at that and it is built on the backs of the people who strive to keep it ticking. Ade states that thought the world may appear light and fluffy, to work in the industry takes a lot of discipline, something she learnt whilst interning herself, “My biggest lesson was time management which is super important. For me specifically, time management wasn’t my best attribute so working at Teen Vogue, you have deadlines. You have to finish the shoot at a certain time, you have to get the clothing at a certain time to execute shooting.
While I was an intern, I learned how important it was to, not only communicate effectively with the different editors but be this person that developed the importance of time efficiency and management especially when working in a group. Working in a magazine, you’re working with the Editor-in-Chief, you’re working with Editors, stylists, photographers and interns who also play a vital part in what we do in the fashion closet so my biggest memory and experience was learning how to efficiently manage my time so that I could diversify and work with the different people that came in and out of the Teen Vogue offices.”
From Intern to Fashion Assistant
It appears Ade learnt the important lessons early on and her work ethic and attitude didn’t go unnoticed. She was soon put forward for a promotion and found herself rising steadily through the ranks of teen style tome, ‘Teen Vogue’. She tells me, “When I was an intern, I was an intern just like anyone else, I was still in school. Thankfully, they [Teen Vogue] gave me an opportunity right before I graduated so I became the Fashion Assistant. Whilst I was doing that, I was working very closely with the Editors and then I got a promotion to become the Assistant Accessories Editor with Shiona Turini and Sheena Smith. As I was a fashion assistant, I was doing a lot of market work. So what I would do is pull and look high and low for different designers, work closely with the photographers to make sure we had what they wanted for the specific shoots.
Styling was my first passion. When I was working in fashion, I realised how much I loved this idea of creating art with clothing. Because of that I went and started styling with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicole Richie, and all these other amazing people and then I realised I was styling them that I was looking at the shoes and I’m looking at the clothes and I’m thinking, ‘Where’s our representation?!’. Where’s the representation of me, where’s a black designer I can put on them and feel excited about and because I saw that void missing, I decided to make that jump and create my shoes because it’s been something that was on my mind. Seeing that missing element through styling, was the reason I went forward in that direction.”
The birth of Ade Samuel Shoes
It’s through this that Ade discovered her true passion, shoe design. “While I was at Teen Vogue, after getting the promotion, I realised that my love for shoes and accessories was so big and I knew that I always wanted to work with pieces. With that, I said let me go and do the hardest part of the industry, which is accessories. A lot of people don’t know that shoemaking and designing are not only expensive but the hardest part of the fashion industry. Ready-to-wear nowadays has the benefit of the advances in technology, with the machinery and how easily you can promote things but shoes, jewelry, and handbags are so difficult and I really wanted the challenge. After leaving TV, I moved to LA and started styling on my own and then realised that I was getting a good income and I really just wanted to follow my passion which was accessories. I decided to go with the most complicated part first, which was shoes. That was the birth of ‘Ade Samuel Shoes’.”
I was keen to know about Ade’s creative process and what was the driving force behind it. “I was inspired by a lot of Bianca Jagger, Kate Moss and a lot of photographers like Helmut Newton and Juergen Teller. Those are pretty much the people that inspired by creativity with my shoes. I looked at a lot of Guy Bourdin, a lot of vintage inspiration, old Prada, and Miu Miu. Those were the people who set the tone for what we are seeing today and I love that. Miuccia Prada was such a big influence in fashion, not only with clothing but with shoes, especially back in the 60’s and 70’s. Those are the pivotal moments that helped me shape what I wanted to do with my designs.
My biggest inspiration, however, was myself as a woman because when I thought about my shoes, it was the gap that was missing; female shoe designers. We have Christian Louboutin, Sergio Rossi, and Gianvito Rossi but we don’t have a female shoe designer. Now, we only really have one, Sophia Webster, who is amazing but we don’t have a black shoe designer; myself. I wanted to fill that void that is missing from the industry.”
The art of styling
I’m curious to know what was the final catalyst for Ade’s jump into the world of styling, a world in which she has made a name for herself. Ade has gone above and beyond to create a stellar reputation and her talent is undeniable. Her eye for putting together looks and also capturing the essence of her clients is what makes her so sought after.
She states, “When I first start working with a client, we really have a conversation about what their aesthetic is and what they did or did not like from their past stylists. I look at all my clients differently so when I look at a Yara Shahidi who I’ve worked with since she was 16 years old, I couldn’t be risky with her. I had to try and be quite fashion forward whilst remaining age appropriate. Someone like Kelly Rowland, who has been in the game for so long, I had to bring her fashion back to life in a way that was geared towards a powerful woman rather than an over-sexualized or trendy woman. It was the same thing with Big Sean, I opened his mind to how men can dress and the alternative ways and silhouettes that they can wear in order to open him up to a different type of fashion. I think that’s what I do when I’m working with my clients, just opening their minds. I allow you to think about what you haven’t thought about before when it comes to clothing.”
Big Sean, the name means a lot to Ade. The opportunity to style him for the Grammys blew Ade’s world wide open and thrust her into the spotlight. Her work was instantly applauded, her inbox was full of people, curious to know about the woman behind Big Sean’s new style.
She recounts the moment fondly, “I would say my most memorable moment to date with Big Sean would be the Grammys around two years ago just because it was so random for them to ask me. To have somebody as huge as Big Sean and to style him for such an important event like the Grammys, I remember coming home that day around 9pm and Billboard Magazine, Hollywood reporter, everybody was emailing me wanting to talk about this look. From there it was the beginning of Big Sean and the era of his growing love for fashion.”
Ade went on to create the impressive body of work ‘Twenty88’ with Big Sean and Jhene Aiko, “We did the whole Twenty88 campaign with her [Jhene Aiko] and Big Sean and working with her for the first time and falling in love with her soul. She had this bohemian, hippy vibe and then she became this cool girl that’s fashion-forward.” She continues, “At the time they weren’t together, so it really was just two creatives, from two different spaces, wanting to bring R&B soul with Hip-hop and looking for a way to merge them. I think they started something new. What R&B singer do you know that’s working with a rapper to create a group?! So, just being a part of that project was just such a pivotal moment in my life. That was one of the first times I’ve worked on album packaging. I did videos as an assistant but by myself, to be a part of that whole creative space, it was new for me and I’m so happy that they allowed me to explore with them.”
I wondered what Ade’s pivotal moment was working with a powerhouse like Kelly Rowland and for Ade, it’s beyond the woman herself, all the way to what she represents; a strong black woman. Kelly and Ade’s synergy is founded on an intrinsic sense of sisterhood.
She explains, “For Kelly, I think the pivotal moment was just working with her. Beginning to work with somebody like Kelly Rowland who I listened to when I was young, who was an inspiring black woman and who had shared the same experience as I had in this world. For me, every moment with her is so huge.”
Race and the Industry
I’m curious to know, now Ade has mentioned the industry in relation to her position in it as a black woman, her experiences and how she reconciles the nasty aspect of the industry, the dark side that is built on the backs of POC and our cultures which are in large part, appropriated with not enough credit given.
Ade comes to life, eager to share her experience, “It’s a taboo conversation, no-one in the industry wants to talk about the disparity of African-Americans and the representation. Now it’s getting better, especially with ready-to-wear, we have a lot of African designers, a lot of black women who are a great representation such as Maki Oh and Lisa Folawiyo. We have a lot of people representing us well however, there is a missing part of this industry where they don’t support the African and black designers. I don’t know why I think it’s just a growing pain of this society and industry.
We just have to keep talking about it and social media is playing a big part in the awareness and conversation surrounding the lack of black designers. Someone like Kanye West, who has all the resources in the world, couldn’t even get an interview or wasn’t really respected because it’s such a tight-knit industry and the union of designers is so small that without the approval of certain people in the industry, your designs won’t be seen by the masses. It’s important to use social media to break in and talk about it, keep the conversation going and bring more awareness to what’s happening.”
She continues, “I definitely think African and black culture plays a huge role in what we are seeing today with a lot of designers, in the entertainment industry, in music videos etc. It’s so evident that cultural appropriation is alive and real. They take from us, inspired by us and it’s just now about saying, yes you can be inspired but make sure you give credit to where that inspiration came from. Gucci’s S/S 18, the latest collection, they put Nigerian beads on the runway. Something that is used for traditional weddings, they probably came to Nigeria, saw it and thought ‘oh this would be beautiful for the runway’, but let’s now tell people where you got this inspiration from. It’s about the appreciation and the acknowledgement and giving credit where it is due and I think that’s what is missing right now. But it’s getting better because when I started, I was one of five black editors at Conde Nast but now to see, so many amazing editors and models, it is a beautiful thing.”
The Beyonce Effect
Speaking of sisterhood and iconic black women, one definitely comes to house. Beyonce is so important to the culture because she is an ideal representation of a black woman refusing to live within her ‘limits’. She is unapologetic in everything she does and as her career progresses, her commitment to the black community through the medium of music and art is increasingly necessary and wholly inspirational.
Ade gushes about being such an integral part of music history, “That was an amazing moment and I think by that time, I was already working and Shiona Turini and Marni both reached out and asked me to be a part of Beyonce’s Formation video. This was her comeback and for me, it was already iconic. Beyonce had not been out for a while and she was coming back, nobody really knew and there was me keeping that big secret whilst working on this amazing video that I didn’t even realise was going to be such a huge conversation piece for black culture. I didn’t realise that Beyonce was coming out with a moment in history that was going to define her as a black woman with a voice talking about the issues surrounding our people.
Shiona reached out and asked me if I wanted to help pull some clothes and help her assist styling. I obviously said yes and when the video came out and it became a headline for Beyonce ‘picking a side’, it was like of course she is, she’s black! To be a part of that conversation and that movement and something that is going to be a moment in history was just fantastic. Thankfully, I had amazing people who trusted me and my eye for styling. The parts that I and Shiona did were all the parts where Beyonce herself was solo. So the part when she’s sitting in the chair, the iconic water scene with her sitting on top of the police car and of course the scene where she’s in the car with the fur and the braids. It was an amazing moment which I wouldn’t change for the world and then to see my name credited when Lemonade came out, that was a very iconic moment.”
Navigating the Nigerian creative space
Ade has been embraced back home. Many are eager to pick her brains and celebrate a fellow Nigerian doing so many amazing things in the diaspora. However, I wonder what she thinks of the fashion industry here. Very much still in its infancy and bursting with potential, we have confidently hit a stride and we are producing creatives that are more than capable of competing in a global context.
Ade explains, “I always say Lisa Folawiyo is probably one of my favourite Nigerian designers right now. I also love Duro Olowu who I think has been doing an amazing job for years. Duro has really helped put a stamp on African fashion and kept it really strong in the minds of the core fashion industry. I think the state of the Nigerian fashion industry is amazing. Sophie Zinga is another one, she’s been incredibly helpful and such an important person for me when it comes to dressing my clients. I think between the music and the fashion, the world is really recognising how inspiration Nigerians are and how beautiful our eyes are especially when it comes to the world of art. To be honest, I’m happy with it and I think we just need to keep driving the force forward internationally to allow people to see the amazing designs and what we can do because they are inspired by us.
Our designers need to keep going and keep pushing and keep driving and connecting with the right people. My friend Kanayo Ebi and her ‘Kach Me if You Can’ showroom in New York has played a huge part. Even the ‘Oxosi’ showroom too. They are making sure Nigerian fashion isn’t going unseen and I always tell people that, if I can see it all the way from LA, then I know we’re doing well. Even Kelly has told me, ‘Ade please go to Nigeria and bring me all the Nigerian fashion’ because even she’s in love with it and the people are really in love with the patterns, prints, fabrics, and silhouettes and because of that we will continue to grow, we can only go up from here.”
As for Nigerian celebrities that Ade would like to work with, she says, “I had the opportunity to work with Tiwa Savage and that was a lot of fun. I think she’s such a powerful force and a great representation for Nigerian women. I love Seyi Shay, I think she’s super-cute, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her but I love her aesthetic. Then there are the men and they are taking over! I love Maleek Berry and Patoranking and the reason why I like their aesthetic is that they are taking different parts of what they are seeing internationally and bringing it back to Africa which I find so amazing.
People that are based here in Africa, people that are based in Nigeria and don’t necessarily have the ability to travel don’t know the different silhouettes and styles that are out there so when they have their artists like Maleek, Wizkid, Runtown or Mr. Eazi coming in and showing them how to put things together, it’s important to have that example and continue to grow that market. I would love to work with them and make them into international superstars because that’s what I like to do. I’m not known as just a celebrity stylist, I really like to curate and creative direct people’s vision and their brand because it’s important that they not only look good but see the whole vision. It’s the branding that’s the most important part of becoming an international superstar.”
Finally, after a Christmas at home, Ade is gearing up for an even more successful 2018, I wonder what her vision includes and where Nigeria fits into that narrative.
She says, “My goal is to continue to grow and continue to bring Nigeria and the African market to the forefront. I’m someone who admires my home and I haven’t been back in a very long time and I’ve been blessed to be able to know what’s going on and know the inside of how to manoeuvre and really push and elevate a brand internationally. For me, 2018, is seeing more of me, Ade Samuel, hearing more of Nigeria, the different designers, and entertainers and allowing my network of African entrepreneurs to work together to bring our culture into America. My biggest goal for 2018 is to push Nigeria into the American spotlight and allow them to give us acknowledgement for what they are inspired by in our culture”
Well, we certainly cannot argue with that. The value of the creative economy in Nigeria is evident. Those living in the diaspora, like Ade are honing their skills, perfecting their craft and ready to invest it all in the ‘New Nigeria’. The vision for the next generation of conscious and creatively stimulated Nigerians who want to work together towards flipping the narrative on its head and rewriting the rules engagement.
If Ade were ever in doubt of the position she plays in that journey she only need check her social media platforms. “There are so many people that I have met on social media that DM me and tell me how much of an inspiration I am to them and that keeps me going because you never know who you are impacting. Thanks to social media, I can actively see the love and support which is always so beautiful.”
It’s even more poignant that, that same love and support is well- reciprocated and as people like Ade continue to steer us towards the light, we can only anticipate the dawn of a ‘New Nigeria’.