Never underestimate the power of a mentor—or a good pair of shoes. Ade Samuel can credit both for giving her a leg up over the years, from her days as an intern at W magazine and Teen Vogue in New York to her current job as the stylist behind Yara Shahidi, Kelly Rowland, Jhené Aiko, and Big Sean‘s red carpet looks.
Born in the Bronx, Samuel worked her way up the editorial ladder in New York before making the move to styling, assisting editors like Shiona Turini and James Worthington Demolet and forging relationships that would later lead to magazine gigs and put her on the set of several major music videos (when you get the call to help call in pieces for Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, you better believe you answer). In 2013, she made the move to the West Coast—where, needless to say, celebrity is big business—and soon was working with stars like Nicole Richie and Miley Cyrus as the assistant to stylist Simone Harouche.
Branching out on her own was something of a leap of faith, but she had good luck: her first clients were Big Sean and Shahidi, the 16-year-old “Black-ish” star who’s garnered praise as an outspoken feminist voice in young Hollywood, and who Samuel met on set for Essence’s much-celebrated Black Girl Magic issue. The covers they shot sparked Twitter-trending conversations as soon as they hit the internet, but at the time, neither had any idea of the impact they’d make on the dialogue. “As soon as the conversation was open, and I saw that term become coined as something that was empowering for women, it was just an eye-opener,” she says. “I didn’t expect that at all.”
She was cognizant, however, that it was an important discussion to be a part of, not only as of the few African-American women in the celebrity styling industry, but also, since founding her eponymous shoe line in late 2015, as one of the even fewer at the helm of a footwear brand. “Yara was one of the first people to believe in me as that young girl who is able to have that creativity and create a style house on her own.”
The first collection, a red-carpet-ready selection of strappy pumps and stiletto sandals, was a passion project several years in the making. “I invested in myself. I didn’t have an investor—I just saved, saved, saved, and took the money that I saved and did the research and figured out how to develop my own line,” says Samuel. “I went to Italy, worked with different illustrators, produced it in Florence, and it was just the journey that I knew I had to take.”
Still, while she’s proud of her accomplishments so far, she knows there’s far to go yet. “When I think about the industry and I think about what’s missing—one, you talk about the African-American celebrity stylist, and there’s not many women that are out there. But then you also talk about shoes on a larger scale, and there are not a lot of women designers who have shoe brands. You know, there’s Jimmy Choo, Sergio Rossi, Christian Louboutin, Aquazzura—these are all men making women’s shoes. Why is there not a woman that’s as big as them?” Why, indeed.
With that in mind, Samuel has big plans for her footwear line in the coming year, starting with an upcoming re-brand and marketing push.
She also hopes to add more clients to her repertoire—and considering the range of her talents, it’ll be exciting to see who’s next. While some stylists build a career dressing stars essentially in their image (as anyone who followed the Zoebots of 2007 knows all too well), Samuel is more interested in tapping in to what makes the women (and man) she works with unique, and celebrating that through fashion.
“Sometimes I cringe when I see stylists that have multiple clients and they all look almost the same, you know?” says Samuel. “I think for me it’s just being able to allow each of my clients to have their own voice, because they are all different. Jhené is soulful, kind of electric—hippy-like with a more bohemian style. Kelly is an elegant, strong woman who has sass and has an amazing body and is very interested in fashion. And Yara is very fashion-forward, but she still understands that she’s 16, so I wouldn’t do the more sexy, revealing pieces looks that I do with Kelly and Jhené.”
“I listen to my clients, I pay attention to what they like, and I pay attention to their own personal wardrobe as well,” she says. “I think my biggest thing is just researching them and knowing their personalities and what they gravitate towards naturally, and then I go from there.”