In her Instagram bio, Teale Coco, 25, describes herself as a model, designer, photographer and “BO$$ BITCH,” but you’ll get a better sense of what she’s all about by scrolling through her photos. In some of them, the self-proclaimed “evil angel” resembles a dominatrix, but in others she poses in nature, looking more like a wood nymph. The real Coco is somewhere in between. She has 175k followers on her personal Instagram, @tealecoco and 160k on the account she runs for her eponymous clothing company, @tealecocothebrand, a line primarily of harnesses, garters and chokers as surprisingly wearable as they are dangerously wicked. As a result, Coco, who proves what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, will probably elicit bewilderment from anyone who has trouble with stark dichotomies. Originally from Australia, she lives in Los Angeles, but is currently in New York for a month and a half to do some modeling.
What inspired you to start Teale Coco, the company?
I started university, or college as you call it, when I was 17. I was doing my Bachelor’s degree in photography. I had no desire to do any modeling, but I was scouted by an agent when I was shooting some fashion models. He suggested that I join the agency. I said no initially, but after a while I was persuaded to try it. You know, why not? As a model, I started traveling internationally, but I decided I needed something a bit more mentally stimulating, and business was something I was very interested in.
Back in 2012, when I first started my designs, I had 8,000 or 10,000 followers on Instagram. The initial designs were not adjustable, they were just design concepts, but they got a huge response from people. At that point, I had no training in fashion or manufacturing or production, but I did know how to draw designs. With the money I made from modeling, I started my own company. I found someone to work with very closely who knew my whole concept of empowerment and what I wanted to do with the designs. We came up with the idea of adjustability in 2013, so that’s when our first adjustable accessories came out. Within a year, my brand went to 100,000 followers. It was just huge. I wanted to cater to the different, the abnormal, the people who don’t fit in—and the people who do— and empower people in their own decisions and choices.
What do you feel is most empowering about your designs?
There is no size restriction or labels involved in purchasing or wearing them. There’s one size which fits 0-22 U.S. and 4-26 Australian, so that’s pretty much an adjustability range that is exclusive to my brand and what we do. Because of this, we get women and men who find it very hard, because of their size, their shape, or maybe disabilities or other things like that, to fit their bodies. Other companies and designers don’t cater to such people. That is empowering, along with the designs themselves, which are bold, striking statement pieces. They can be worn and stylized to the individual’s taste, under or over clothing, with their own skin, or whatever they want—it’s completely up to the wearer.
When you design new pieces, are you coming at it from the fashion side, the sexual side or a healthy mix of both?
Definitely from the fashion side. I don’t consider my designs or any of the work I do to be sexual, but of course, society will oversexualize anything involving women. I’m not in the BDSM community or any other underground community. I am aware of shibari, which is an ancient form of Japanese rope art. I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan, and that’s something I take inspiration from, but my designs are purely things I want to wear and that I can’t find anywhere else.
Do you have any help running your Instagram accounts?
I run everything myself. The brand Instagram is purely a fashion label. My personal page is for my work, my personal life, my modeling shoots, other things I do, and my creative direction. It’s more about self-motivation and mental health. I do work with other artisans and designers around the world, but I don’t do paid posts. I only work with people I want to work with, who I really respect as artists, and whose stuff I think needs to be seen.
On Instagram, you often pair fierce-looking images with personal, sensitive captions. Can you talk about that contrast?
People need to see others’ weaknesses. My designs are very dominant, but I am in fact a submissive person in the sense of my personality and my emotions. I can be dominant, but with these designs, people can be soft, too. That’s why we have the dusted pink collection. When I present myself like this, I like to add notes that I have a strong style and I look scary to some, but the fact is, I am an evil angel. I’m soft on the inside, and I’m very spiritually inclined.
Has Instagram’s anti-nipple policy affected what you post? In some of your photos, it looks like the nipples have been Photoshopped out.
I quite like the visual aspect of the removal of the nipples, because it makes people question what it really means to be sexual and sexualized as a woman. Having a petite frame and small breasts, once I remove my nipples, it’s hard for people to distinguish if I’m a man or a woman. It’s very androgynous. The censorship on Instagram is annoying, but I don’t mind having to remove the nipples. I think it’s a shock factor to that whole censorship system. I’ve only ever had maybe 2 or 3 photos removed.
Why were those ones taken down?
Sometimes I cover the nipples with emojis or something, and the emojis will be too small, and people will think that they’re nipples and report them. In general, when your photos get high exposure, people hate and report things—but that’s only happened a couple of times, because the majority of my followers, 66%, are women.
You use hashtags differently than other people. Can you talk about that?
Apparently hashtags don’t do anything anymore with Instagram’s new algorithm, so to me, it’s purely a visual thing. I highlight words that I want to catch people’s attention by hashtagging them. I can’t put it in bold, so I hashtag.
What are a few Instagram accounts that you find inspiring?
Michael Hussar (@michael_hussar) is a painter friend of mine who I work with regularly doing live nude drawings. He’s someone I’ve looked up to since I was in school, and he’s a big inspiration for my work and style. Teratology (@teratology) is a makeup artist with her own personal style of “cut out” makeup that she makes by hand. Ellen Sheidlin (@sheidlina) is a Russian artist and creative director. She does great visual imagery that is out of this world. Stuff like that really catches my eye. I’m not really into the blogging or the showing off or the egomania of Instagram. I’m more interested in people’s art and self-expression in a creative way.
What’s something your Instagram followers may not realize about you?
Sometimes people think I listen to goth music and metal, because I have a dark style, but that’s not true at all. I listen to hip-hop music. I don’t follow any underground, bondage, hardcore or any scene like that. Other than that, people can believe whatever they want really. The whole point of art is that there is no right answer, you know? It’s everyone’s own interpretation.