Style is very important. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion is over quickly. Style lasts forever.” These were words of Ralph Lauren, an American fashion designer, are true in the case of a Nigerian-born, London-based fashion designer who considers real fashion to be style. He is Duro Olowu.
In the world of fashion, Olowu has become a household name in both the Nigerian and global fashion industry. Undoubtedly, he is a well-respected Nigerian fashion design personality famous for his unique and colourful African prints. He is super talented in working with patterns and his designs incorporate the rich culture and diversity of the Nigerian people.
Olowu was born in Lagos to a Nigerian father and Jamaican mother. He spent his childhood travelling between Nigeria and Europe and spent summers in Geneva, immersing himself in multiple cultures. His experience travelling the world culminated in his exposure to different cultures and hence, his description of himself as a fashion designer in deep conversation with other disciplines such as art, film and culture.
Of course, his love for fashion started right from his childhood. Olowu began sketching fashion designs at 6-years-old and continued throughout his childhood. According to the now made fashion brand, at the time he chose to study fashion, it was not really an option for his parents. Though they encouraged his creativity, they felt another profession would provide stability for the young man. Nonetheless, he spent his time browsing in the Kings Road, Kensington Market and Hyper Hyper and going to clubs like the Wag, the Mud Club and warehouse parties. He managed to do very creative things in an important period of style and music in London, and because he wanted to experience all the aspects of that time, he went on and on about it.
But as time went on, he chose to follow his father’s footsteps and pursued a career in law. He moved to the UK where he obtained a law degree at the University of Canterbury and practised in Nigeria for a few years. But he never really abandoned his fashion career.
Earning a law degree did not stop Olowu from doing what he loves and knows how to do best. As soon as he returned to London, he pursued his true vocation, a career in fashion launching a women’s wear label under his name in 2004. He however, began showcasing his pieces with the spring/summer 2005 collection.
His first collection was an instant hit with fashion editors and buyers worldwide and an international sell out in its worldwide stockists at the time, including Barneys in New York, Harrods in London and Maria Luisa in Paris.
He names his inspiration to be women, past and present, how they live, see things and what they need. His desire on the other hand is to make women feel confident in an effortless way. He says he is also inspired by colour, silhouette and pattern, one of the reasons he looks to arts and artists from all over the world including early and contemporary African art and international art and photography.
Designers that inspire him include Yves Saint Laurent, Stephen Burrows, Azzedine Alaia, Madame Gres and Walter Albini and Issey Miyake.
Olowu’s designs have won the heart of many women. One of such women is Michelle Obama, the onetime first lady of the United States of America. She became his client in the run-up to her husband’s first term and after her husband became the president, she continued to buy and wear his pieces. Michelle Obama has been a real supporter and he feels honoured because she wore very few non-American designers.
Other top clients include Uma Thurman- an American actress and model, Solange Knowles- an American singer, song writer and actress, Linda Evangelista- a Canadian model, regarded as one of the most accomplished and influential models of all time, etc.
His work has won him many awards. For instance, in 2005, he was named London Fashion Week’s New Designer of the Year, the only designer to do so without having a catwalk show. In 2009, he was named the Best International Designer by the African Fashion Awards and received one of six nominations for the Swiss Textile Federation’s top prize of 100,000 Euros. His waist patchwork- Duro, was named ‘Dress of the Year’ by both British and American Vogue in 2005.
One of his famous quotes is “my job is not dictating to women what they should wear. It is presenting them with beautiful options.”
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