Tia Elisabeth Glista: Multi-Dimensional Creative & EIC of Couturesque
If there is one through-line in Tia Elisabeth Glista’s diverse career, it’s summed up best in her own words on her website, which reads, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to create things.” Tia’s zest for making new things started young, when she started a zine for girls at her elementary school-- and by age ten, she was chipping away at a novel.
In high school, Tia’s burgeoning interest in fashion sent her scavenging for meaningful industry media for young people. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she launched Couturesque, an online platform where critically thinking creatives dissect issues in fashion and beauty. Four years on, Couturesque is far from your average fashion site: from interviews with musicians, models, and artists to essays about the ideal fashion show soundtrack and fashion’s class appropriation problem, is anything but superficial.
Not content to be doing just one thing, Tia juggles her role as editor-in-chief of Couturesque with several others. A native of Canada, Tia now calls Manhattan home as a student at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Aside from studying abroad in Europe, she’s parlayed her studies into internships at Vogue and the Whitney Museum. As extensive as her resume is, Tia is selective about where she puts her energy. Rather than forcing herself through a project or focus that doesn’t speak to her, she’s guided by the intuitive pull of her creative juices.
When asked to name individuals she admired, Tia spoke of her respect for those who are vulnerable and honest. In the process of this interview, Tia sent a note that she had tendonitis, and might be late getting her responses back. The interview came in on time, but the exchange demonstrated what perhaps is most unique about Tia: she’s a passionate and multifaceted thinker with the courage to be authentic--even if it means leaving something undone. If that alone doesn’t make her an inspiration to young people everywhere, I’m not sure what does.
Olivia Land: Let’s go back to Tia 5 or 10 years ago. What was she up to?
Tia Elisabeth Glista: 10 years ago, I was a 10-year-old with a lot of chutzpah and big dreams! I was heavily invested in dancing nine hours a week, being on school teams and clubs, and trying to write my first novel! At 10, I was passionate about writing and creativity in general, and had a very active imagination and love of reading and history. 5 years later, then, I was in high school, trying to reckon with my newfound insecurities about my appearance and fitting in, and squaring that with figuring out my own values, ideologies, and interests and how they might have put me at odds with some of my peers or the kinds of pressures that I was struggling with. I fell into an obsession with YouTube beauty videos in an unhealthy way, wherein I tied fulfilment to buying, wealth, looking attractive, and performing this very desirable, passive model of femininity. It was around this time that I also began to pursue an interest in the fashion industry, however, and particularly felt drawn to how fashion could be used not as a tool for social adaptation, but rather for transgression. This was motivating and reminded me of my younger self, and the ambition, self-confidence, and self-possession that I had had then, and was a really important turning point in my coming of age and coming back into myself.
Olivia: Where did you initially get your start with feminism? When did your social values start merging with your creative pursuits?
Tia: I think that I’ve always been a feminist, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary to put it in those terms. As a young child, my closest friends were my brother and my male cousin, and so I was exposed to a lot more than just the expected “girls’" activities or interests. At the same time though, I loved clothes, shopping, dressing up, and I didn’t know how to square those two sides of me – wanting to play sports and and explore the woods, and also play with Barbies… I was always aware of the boundaries of gender in some way or another, as a result. In some ways, I feel like I had a more liberatory childhood because I had interests that transgressed the normative boundaries of masculine and feminine, but I also felt slightly outcasted as a result of that. Discovering feminism at the beginning of high school in a more formal sense gave me the language, history, and community with which to frame my own experiences, to learn more about those of others, and to give voice to them. I feel like feminism was always there waiting for me to discover it and ever since it has been a part of everything that I do and think about. Everything is political in some way, whether we choose to actively make it that way or not, and my family has always nurtured an interest in politics in me from a young age, from volunteering for local candidates as a family, to watching and discussing the news together, and attending rallies and protests for as long as I can remember. It is our responsibility to be informed citizens as much as we can, especially whenever we are working on something that is public facing, like for me, art or writing. In college, I learned more about the study of gender and important thinkers in feminist studies. Earlier this year, I had the life-changing opportunity to have dinner with Angela Davis and her research partner Gina Dent; their wisdom and commitment to social justice and their belief in education and critical thinking was so inspiring to me. Moving forward, I want to create work that gives evidence to the social causes I believe in and makes them more accessible and understandable to a broader audience.
Olivia: What lead you to start Couturesque?
Tia: I started the website when I was in grade 10 and my interest in the fashion industry was growing a lot stronger, however, I felt as though so many magazines catering towards younger audiences spoke down to them and extolled values that I found to be superficial or even detrimental (21 Ways to Look like Kylie Jenner! 10 Over-Priced Face Masks That Will Make You Popular!) I wanted to create a positive, safe space for critical thinking creatives who are serious about fashion and whose opinions and voices might not otherwise get broadcasted, and that isn't all about commercialism either.
Olivia: You wrote a really interesting piece for one of NYU Gallatin’s journals reflecting on fashion and feminism. What are your ideas about these two areas—do you think fashion is inherently political?
Tia: Thank you! I believe that everything is political in one way or another, but thinking specifically about fashion, I don’t think it can be divorced from politics, no. Fashion is an industry that has always been built on exploitation – looking back to the turn of the century and the appalling conditions of laundry workers and garment workers who were primarily immigrants or single mothers or living below the poverty line, up to today, where we have now exported these exploitations to the Global South where the labour is performed by underpaid black and brown women, not to mention the ongoing mistreatment of interns, assistants, and models in the urban fashion capitals of the West. Fashion is often spoken about in a way where we don’t acknowledge the labour that goes into it; this practice in and of itself is political because it obscures the material conditions in which everything under the fashion umbrella comes into existence. Fashion is also political because it passes through so many different networks of identity formation; it is the median between ourselves and others, where gender, class, and tastes are articulated visually, and as such, fashion is an extremely compelling nexus through which we can examine how we think about and read all of those things.
Olivia: You clearly have interest and talent in several areas—including writing, photography, and styling. How do you balance these creative energies in the day-to-day?
Tia: Thank you! I often worry that there are not enough hours in the day, or in a lifetime, for all the things that I want to do… It’s true that I have a lot of different interests, but I think a lot of that comes from being self-taught and having to teach myself these these things instead of relying on other people.I’m trying to focus specifically on writing and filmmaking right now, while still being open to new opportunities and thinking in an interdisciplinary way because that makes things so much more interesting! I like to think about how my interests can inform one another, rather than thinking of them as divergent; for example my experiences as a dancer growing up have helped me to develop a writing style that is often very physical or this visceral, or prompts me to think about different ways that the camera might move in a video shoot. That said, I would like to devote a period of time to getting highly trained in one particular area from time-to-time! I feel like so many people of our generation are managing a million different side hustles just to survive and maintain a competitive edge, and as a result feel kind of exhausted or spread too thin.
Olivia: Burnout is incredibly prevalent right now, especially amongst women. How do you find a balance between school, your outside work, and taking care of yourself?
Tia: That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; we often don’t really think about self-care in terms that actually benefit ourselves, but rather, I think, and kind of performative ways or ways that we see other people practice it, versus what actually benefits us as individuals. I love to sleep and always try to prioritise getting a full eight hours, even if it means putting something down before I want to or falling behind in someway, because if I have the energy I can make it up and do a better job the next day anyways. I feel like being busy forces you to be organised and manage your time better. I really value time to watch a movie, cook, write for myself and not with the intention of showing my work to anyone else, and have honest conversations with friends. Mental health gets a lot of lip service on social media, but we usually hear about it from people who have overcome a huge hurdles, or have formal diagnoses, or have hit rock bottom; I think we also need to start having conversations about mental health before we reach a crisis point as well.
We also have to listen to our bodies and stop pretending that there is some kind of split between the mind/mental health and the body. For example, I have been struggling with tendinitis in my arms and wrists from all of the typing and writing that I do, and it makes me really sad that it physically pains me to do what I love, but at the same time, I’m trying to receive that message from my body – that I need a break or don’t need to be in such a hurry to do everything right now and constantly be working
Olivia: What is your ethos when styling a shoot? Are there certain criteria for portraying the body—particularly the female body—that you bring to each project?
Tia: Admittedly, I’m actually moving away from styling because I feel like it’s something that I’m not as passionate about anymore, nor am I as talented as a lot of other stylists out there who have a real knack for this kind of thing and a patience and precision that I lack. That said, I always strove to be innovative in someway and in that, I think relying on tropes of this kind of glamorous, glossy, overdone, perfect vision of femininity that some kinds of editorials can reify is not only kind of misogynist, but also just boring! I really love imperfection, whether it be a model who has an unconventional look, or doing a shoot with no make up and messy hair, or having things be mismatched and irreverent… That is so much more intellectually and visually compelling to me! Working from real life is really interesting to me and I love images that can blend realism with something more inventive and wild.
Olivia: What is your attitude towards social media, particularly are as it pertains to fashion and politics?
Tia: Like anything, and has its pros and cons. I participated in a panel of student activist this spring who had a discussion with Angela Davis and her research partner, Gina Dent, and something that they said that really stuck with me regarding social media, was that it is a tool for us to use, versus allowing it to use us, which I think can happen sometimes. I definitely respond to the idea that we have this opportunity to express ourselves and share our point of view in unprecedented ways, but I don’t think we can pretend that it is without its biases. I’ve written before, for example, about how when I was starting out the fashion industry, a number of editors who I asked for advice from would continually tell me that I needed to get more followers on social media and post more pictures of myself to build a brand, but overtime I’ve really come to resent that idea - that I have to present myself a certain way or look a certain way in order for people to value my work, or that I have to narrow my self-expression to fit some kind of commercially salient brand, versus embracing the multiplicity and complexity of what it means to just be a human and a young person in 2018!
In terms of politics, I think I think that that remains largely to be seen; for example, as much as political conversations are happening online and youth appeared to be getting involved in activism, the results of this are not reflected at all in statistics about youth voter participation, which remains dismally low. I also think that for this generation, having been raised with social media and the Internet, we are used to having the opportunity to fully customize our experiences, whether that is an infinite number of online stores to shop from with crazy one-day delivery options, or the plethora of new streaming services, and access to any music or podcasts that we could possibly imagine, and so I think that we have become accustomed to getting whatever we want, whenever we want it. Translating that politically, I’m often frustrated with my peers when they don’t want to vote because they feel that no candidates align with 100% of their views, which I think is a completely unrealistic expectation to have for human beings, and shows an unawareness of the privilege that it is to participate in political systems, even if they are flawed (which they definitely are). I think ultimately, social media can be a fun and useful tool, but we also need to be really cognisant of how it’s affecting our behaviour, mental health, and expectations of the real world
Olivia: Make Muse is all about women smashing societal standards. Who are some people—whether world-famous or close friends--you think are doing this right now?
Tia: In general, I think I feel really inspired by people who have the capacity to be extremely honest and vulnerable at a time where there is so much critical attention being paid to everything that people say, do, wear, or post. I think that a lot of people who are really honest, like Solange comes to mind, or Yara Shahidi, Emma Watson, Laverne Cox, and Amandla Stenberg, or the artist Sara Lucas whose show at New Museum I reviewed recently, kind of subvert this sense of urgency that our culture has really created, where we have to produce so much work and react to things so quickly, that a lot of what gets made and said actually isn’t that thoughtful…I really love people who can speak their truth honestly and in considered ways, where maybe they speak less often, but what they do say has a much greater impact and more thoughtfulness and meaningfulness. I’m also feeling like we need to read more as a culture and there is so much more to be learned, more fully, from books than from Tweets or 400 word click-baiting think-pieces… this year, I read a lot of bell hooks and Toni Morrison, and felt very inspired and challenged by what they had to say; their work is so well researched, and their writing is so beautiful, and is ultimately I think really transformative in a lot of ways. I also just finished reading Educated by Tara Westover, which is an incredibly moving memoir, but I think also has a lot to say in the subtext about things like education, the American dream, politics, class, religion, and mental health.
Olivia: Both Make Muse and Couturesque are aimed at the thoughtful, engaged young people of 2018. What are the unique challenges facing these young people today?
Tia: That’s a really interesting question and I think that identifying these challenges is a challenge in and of itself! I guess that with the advent of so many new technologies, we’re living in a time of unprecedentedly rapid change, and we don’t yet know what all of the consequences of all of these new tools – like the Internet and social media – might actually be. I also think that for all that we talk about technology making us more connected, we may actually be in a lot of ways more distant from one another than in the past couple of generations. Even considering how we now rely on technology to socialize for us so that we don’t have to talk to people in person, or even over the phone, and our work lives, social lives, romantic lives, and leisure are all becoming operated through technology and technological innovations. That kind of concerns me, and the fact that we’re becoming more isolated and more lonely at the same time that so many people are dealing with mental health crises like anxiety, depression, and addiction, in extremely high rates, and political polarisation has created an uptick in violence and protest. Just as some of this discord is a consequence of technologies, I think that it also pushes us to retreat further from one another and into relying on technology, so that we don't have to confront and collaborate and listen to others, which can seem more difficult or emotional.
Olivia: Going forward, what are three goals you currently have for yourself ? These can be anything from small to-dos to major life accomplishments—everything counts!
Tia: I think that now, increasingly, I am coming to know myself a lot better and be more honest about what it is that I care about and want to do. I want to continue to find my voice and in particular, I want to do this through writing. I’ve been thinking about working towards creating a book of essays at some point in the next couple of years, or maybe after I finish my undergrad degree. I am also really passionate about filmmaking, so I am currently working on a dance film that embodies a lot of my feelings about feminism and the relationship between gender in violence, but I also have a few music video projects in the works that I will be directing hopefully later this year. I’m also trying to figure out grad school, and whether I should do my Masters or PhD, and what it is that I feel compelled to study more closely (and how to pay for it, LOL). Personally, I’m really trying to get better at looking after myself and figuring out what that looks like for me, and also learning how to do that before I start to get too overwhelmed and not just after. I’m trying to speak to myself more kindly and be more honest about what I need, versus what I want.