The glitz and glamour of entertainment is nothing without the people who dress today’s biggest stars. For “Who’s Behind the Clothes,” HuffPost spotlights stylists and costume designers who have delivered some of our favorite celebrities’ or characters’ most memorable looks. Read my interview with “Industry” costume designer Colleen Morris-Glennon.
Tiffany Hasbourne has taken her fashion talents global, from her Caribbean household in the LeFrak City neighborhood in Queens, New York, to Colombia, Germany and beyond. But before she became the costume designer on Donald Glover’s FX series “Atlanta,” she attended college in Georgia.
The stylist and costume designer graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta with a degree in computer animation. However, self-expression through clothing had been a common thread through her life, dating as far back as her private school days. When Hasbourne told her father she planned to switch lanes to fashion, he struggled to grasp the concept.
“And oddly, he didn’t really understand what I did until I did the TV show ‘Shooter,’” said Hasbourne, recalling the first series she designed on her own. “Because of him being in the military, he was actually pretty impressed that I understood military uniforms. He was like, ‘So who do you dress on the show?’ I laughed like, ‘Everybody, Dad!’”
From costume designing on “P-Valley” to the pilot for “All American: Homecoming” to “Ballers” and other shows, Hasbourne has made a name for herself in television and film. She got her start working with clients such as radio personality Angie Martinez, rapper Busta Rhymes and musical icon Missy Elliott; in recent years, she’s added actor Brian Tyree Henry to her roster.
“What I have learned working with Busta and Missy has made me a custom queen,” she said. “Because I feel like I get to offer someone whatever they want without limitation.”
Hasbourne believes that neither her clients nor her career should have limitations, refusing to be confined to a stylist-vs.-costume-designer binary. Rather, she believes in the power of “both, and.” Hasbourne talked to HuffPost about designing the final season of “Atlanta,” bridging European style with Southern flare, and what’s next in her fashion career.
What is your creative process for studying a character and envisioning their style? From Uncle Clifford in “P-Valley” to Paper Boi and Earn in “Atlanta,” they’re each very different in how they present and in the messaging they’re trying to send as well.
One of the things I really had to think about in terms of doing Season 2 of “Atlanta,” I remember my show [that I was working on] had just shut down because an actor got hurt. I went on vacation, and I watched all of “Atlanta” Season 1. I was like, “OK, how do you make this different?” At that time, the show didn’t have a lot of money for wardrobe yet, which was great, because that’s when I use my resources as a stylist. I was able to bring in my relationship with Adidas, which then in turn, Donald [Glover] ended up getting an Adidas deal. One of the things that I pitched to him was what people don’t realize is that even though artists may look like they have money, a lot of people are giving them things. We can make it where he’s using promo. I actually used promo to start influencing the characters around Paper Boi and Paper Boi himself — because when you’re an artist and people give you free stuff, you share. Donald actually related to that as an artist, because he was like, “That’s super accurate. Because I do that with [my brother] Stephen.”
I think that was one of the things that we were able to do in Season 2 in terms of seeing the Prps [jeans], the Adidas, AKOO, which was an Atlanta-based brand, and doing what would make sense in the real world. When I consulted for Season 3, with the European designer, I just gave her some brands that I thought the actors would wear. Of course, she did her own thing with that. The stand-alone episodes for Season 3 that I did, they were individual stories, so I just tailored those to what the story was. The vision for Season 4 was every time I’ve ever done a job in another country, how did that influence my particular personal style? What I made sure I did with Season 4 was make sure they’re a little bit more elevated.
We went from watching Earn, who dropped out of Princeton, struggle endlessly to seeing him fitted in designer.
Right. It’s one of those things where it’s tough with “Atlanta” because the clothes are never Hiro [Murai]’s and Donald’s priority. It’s about the story. It’s about the visuals in terms of how it looks and what the storyline is. It has to be subtly done where it’s not in their face because if it’s too contrived, they’re like, “No, no, we don’t like it.” As someone who went to school in Atlanta, I would have to literally send Hiro a picture like, “Bro, look at this dude in the mall. They do the most!” It’s that world where, creatively, you’re trying to push the envelope. You’re like, “I know you don’t want it to be this, but this is Atlanta. They’ll go broke trying to keep up!”
I think it was about elevating it. When I went to shoot in Europe, watching European fashion helped elevate me. I used that in terms of how it influenced Van, and the lesson of how what Paper Boi went through made Earn want to elevate as a manager and be taken seriously. One of the fun characters to always put wild stuff on, which is actually pretty easy because they actually push you to go left, is LaKeith [Stanfield]’s character. Because Darius has always kind of gone left. I feel like, as odd as it is, there’s a lot of pressure in making his character stand out, but also making it where it’s cool enough that people also can relate to it.
Tell me about how you dealt with that transition, from emulating European style to conveying where they are now geographically and professionally. What can we expect from the rest of Season 4, and how would you describe the characters’ style evolutions this season?
The beautiful thing about “Atlanta” is that each season has nothing to do with the other. There was something interesting about it, because I had a conversation with the costume designer that was going to do the European portion of it. They went to Europe, they shot it, and I had no clue what they landed on or what they ended up doing. They came back, we did all of Season 4, then we shot all of the stand-alone episodes for Season 3. I was able to ask, “Can I see a few pictures of what you did in Europe?” But to me, it didn’t matter because I think each episode is so different. As long as I had the question in my head: How were you influenced when you lived abroad, and how can we use that to play into these characters? That was always the inspiration for me in terms of where I went with the characters.
I had waited for years for the show to come back. It was such a hard dynamic for me, because I had shot half of the movie “Hustle” with Adam Sandler. I was supposed to go back and finish the second half, but it was clashing with the timing of Season 4. I was like, “I gotta go back and finish what I started with ‘Atlanta.’” I have a storyboard that I pretty much presented to Hiro and Donald for every episode before we did it and shopped it. I knew exactly what I wanted for each episode. Once I read it, I knew exactly what I wanted those characters to look like. I could tell my shoppers verbatim, “I’m looking for this. This is what I want. I want this. Here’s a visual of it,” even down to what I wanted the looters to look like.
You came from a background where you styled athletes. How have those skills carried over into your work in costume design on television?
One of the reasons I think Lev [Stephen Levinson] hired me for “Ballers” is because he didn’t even realize dressing athletes’ bodies would be a challenge. When I was dressing LeSean “Shady” McCoy, although “Shady” wasn’t the biggest, he had big thighs because he was a running back. It was like what jeans are good for a running back? Ones that have stretch, that give in the thighs, so AG jeans. With each project, I’ve learned to do what’s best for the actor. Working on “Atlanta,” I now have become Brian Tyree Henry’s stylist. One of the things that I love about him is on his press tour for “Bullet Train,” GQ named him one of the best dressed on the press tour. One of the challenges for him is that he isn’t necessarily sample size. You can buy him off the rack, but he isn’t sample size. Then on top of that, he’s really busy. He doesn’t have time, all the time to do fittings, pull a bunch of stuff, for us to have an hour fitting, then let a tailor have two hours to do alterations. One of the things that I love is we do a lot of custom pieces for him. The thing that I love about that is I still get to make him feel good in his body.
One of things I loved about “In Treatment” with Uzo [Aduba] — because Uzo’s not plus size, she’s curvy — we were able to do monochromatic hot pink. I’m sure you understand being tall, you sometimes have to buy a bigger size just to get the length of something correctly, then you have to take the pants in or do something else. Then, they want to offer it in black or gray or blue, but what if you want yellow?
What I have learned working with Busta [Rhymes] and Missy [Elliott] has made me a custom queen. Because I feel like I get to offer someone whatever they want without limitation. If [“P-Valley” creator] Katori [Hall] says, “I want something green,” I don’t just go back to her and say, “They don’t have any green suits in the store.” No, I go make it. It opens your palette in terms of what you can do if you’re willing to go custom. From athletes to curvy women to men that are taller and/or broader, it’s all about tailoring something to a person. With Uncle Clifford, do you know how hard it is to find women’s clothing for a man that’s over 6 feet tall? When I came in [on “P-Valley”] all the tailors there were stressed, and what I was able to do was take my styling resources and go to 5001 in New York and have them make Lil’ Murda’s fur cape, go to Alba designs in LA and order Uncle Clifford’s suit for the grand reopening of the Pynk. You’re able to go to these different resources and bring them all together.
What was it like costume designing on “P-Valley”?
When you come in midseason on a show like “P-Valley,” as a designer, I try to be very respectful of what the designer before me started in terms of what their vision is. One of the things that I loved about Katori in our conversation was she was open to what my version of those characters were. For me, jumping in, it was like, “OK, well, what did I miss? Where’s Lil’ Murda now? Had he been on tour? He has been on tour. So he’s made a little money — and what does that look like? If he’s standing next to Tina Snow and he’s performing, what does that look like?” One of the beautiful things about Uncle Clifford is Nicco [Annan] is so hands-on; he already has a vision. With him, creating Uncle Clifford looks are like playing tennis. He’ll be like, “I like this,” and then it’s my job to take whatever that version is and elevate it or bring it to life. I remember in Season 2, when they’re standing in the poppy fields, and he’s holding the umbrella. There’s a scene where he’s in those fields, again, talking to Corbin, and we played off the influence of “The Color Purple,” when Celie’s sister and her kids came and there was that flowing fabric. We were inspired by a designer who had all these different fabrics and got a custom-made outfit, where he’s standing near his Cadillac and there are the blowing pieces in the wind.
Tell me about your journey into styling and costume design. Who ignited the spark for you?
My mother. I went to private school until I got to high school, and I had to beg to go to public high school. In order for my father to allow me to go, I had to get accepted to a specialized high school, which was then the High School of Fashion Industries. Going to a private school, even though you wear a uniform, what most people didn’t realize was you’re trying to separate your individuality from everybody else who wears the same thing as you. One of the things that I used to enjoy was shopping with my mother. I remember going shopping with my mother on South Street in Philly and [visiting] this little antique shop or vintage shop, and she bought me this fork and spoon earring. People were like, “Why the fork and spoon?” and I was like, “I don’t know. I just think it’s cool!”
Especially when you go to a religious school where you’re the minority — I went to St. John’s in Queens in College Point. Then, I went to Kew Forest, which was in Kew Gardens, where a lot of my classmates were from very affluent neighborhoods where they had a lot of money. We did really well for ourselves, but my father lived very modestly, so that I could go to private school. It was one of those things where you wear a uniform, but you find the right shoe, you find the right jewelry, you find the right accessories. I think that’s played a big part in me being a stylist, learning how to take something and make the most out of it. People assume that being around people who have money, they buy all this designer stuff — and it’s actually really the opposite. They buy pieces. It really taught me how to take staple items, expand on them, and make it work.
What draws you into particular projects? What makes you want to sign on and say yes?
Each project has been different for me. For “Ballers,” it was the challenge of me doing what I was already doing in real life and putting it on screen. I had watched things that I thought were supposed to represent us but watching them, I was like, “This isn’t right. Like, we wouldn’t do that,” which is one of the things that I will forever be grateful to Stephen Levinson about. That was one of the producers that I could literally go to, sit and say, “We wouldn’t do this,” and he would go “OK, what would you do?” and he would actually listen.
For “Ballers,” it was the urge of wanting to get it right. I think it was the same with “All American: Homecoming,” and actually liking the show that came prior to that. For “Shooter,” it was the fact that I didn’t have the experience to do it. I remember my first interview, I was probably on the phone with 10 executives and basically they said, flat out, “Why should we give you this job?” and I was like, “I don’t have an ego. All I can do is put my performance before my pride and get this right.” It was really hard, but to this day, Omar Epps is like a brother to me. I feel like we walked away with this family, doing something that was really hard and challenging, that had serious content, but we all committed to it and took it very seriously.
The first few projects of my career, although they were shows that had people of color in them, they weren’t really considered cultural staples or touch points. When “Atlanta” was presented to me, for the first time, I was like, “Oh, well, here’s my opportunity to do that.” For me, the draw was going back to Atlanta, right. I went to school in Atlanta, I know the city of Atlanta. I feel like as a girl from New York, that was where I first gained my independence. I first started dressing artists there, stepping out on my own and doing fashion, working with groups like Jagged Edge. That was me going back to my roots. Now, I think I pick projects based on what’s going to move the needle.
Is there a particular character you’ve styled on a show that has been your favorite or the most challenging?
I don’t have any favorites, because they’re all so different. Now, I have favorite looks that I’ve created where I’ve been like, “Oh, this one is a favorite for me,” but I don’t have favorite characters, because I think each of them have been so special and unique to me. Dr. Brooke on “In Treatment” was a special one for me because this is the first time that we see a therapist that is coming from a neighborhood in LA where Black women have money. It was very important, especially with someone who wasn’t a size 2, to make sure that we weren’t lazy in showing what that looked like and pushing the envelope in terms of what that style looked like. I remember on that show they were trying to keep things real conservative. That was a 22-episode series, and Uzo Aduba was in every episode. I had to build a mannequin of her body just to try outfits on the mannequin, because she wasn’t always available for fitting. I had like four amazing monochromatic looks. The producers just kept bumping us on it, like “No, no, no.” Then Inauguration Day happened and Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, and everyone walked out in these beautiful monochromatic looks. We were like, “You see! This is it. This is what people are doing.”
What are you working on currently?
The name of this movie is “Shadow Force.” It’s Kerry Washington and Omar Sy. Think “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” When you work with these actors that have these iconic characters, for Kerry, wearing certain coats, she’s like, “It’s too Olivia Pope.” This is her doing a full, live-action movie where she’s fighting, so how do I get the audience to see Kyra and not Olivia Pope, right? Yes, she’s done all these other things since Olivia Pope, but that’s still something for her that she plays. Even for Omar, he has “Lupin.” For me, in all my projects, a piece of me that I sprinkle in there is somebody’s gonna have some type of fire footwear. I’m a sneakerhead. The pressure for me with Omar was with him doing “Lupin,” he was like, “My character always wears Jordan 1s.” I’m like, “Yeah, but they’re not the exclusive exclusive joints.” So he’s like, “OK, well, what are you thinking?” You’re gonna see something that’s like, woo.
Where do you see your career going next?
Honestly, I love fashion so much in terms of being a costume designer, but I would also love to creatively produce. I feel like I have so much to offer in terms of resources, with productions who may not have bigger budgets, being able to help build relationships with clothing lines. I see directors now that are asking designers to help with their movies. As another costume designer, I’m always like, “Oh, my God, like, they should call such and such,” but it’s like you don’t ever want to overstep. You have to let each designer do their own process. You see TV shows where the producers are like, “Hey, we’re looking for upcoming designers.” I would love to be a creative producer in terms of that.
People have always asked me if I would ever want to do a line. I wouldn’t want to do a line but I would definitely want to do some sort of collaboration. A lot of my friends are like, “You need to change your name on Instagram from @TiffTheStylist to @TiffTheDesigner.” I always feel torn about it because I just had this conversation with D-Nice, who is the person who gave me the name @TiffTheStylist. I like there would be no designer without the stylist. I’m not an “or” girl. I’m not a stylist or designer; I’m a stylist and a designer. I like to live in both worlds.