INTERVIEW: When Lagos Boy met London Boy.
[nggallery id=13] Adebayo Oke-Lawal, referred to as Bayo by friends, has been a rising star in the African fashion industry for many years now; and today I got the opportunity to have a one-on-one with the young Nigerian designer of Orange-Culture; who is currently sojourning in London. As I arrange the space for our interview, Bayo wanders around like a headless chicken; sending out various emails on his phone. It’s easy to see that Bayo is an extremely busy man; juggling many of the responsibilities that have come along with his rising success. As I try to find the cleanest cups (good impressions count); Bayo is trying to arrange an order that needs to be delivered immediately to a celebrity client; while trying to sort out an issue with the magazine he runs back home in Nigeria. We finally sit down. And yes, I’ve finally divorced Bayo from his phone. Bayo is genteel and genial; and our pre-interview chat is punctuated with his infectious laughter. He is extremely unassuming, and seems to talk more through his bold style; today, it’s an ensemble of blue studio54-esque trousers and a white print shirt; all complimented with his signature black hat; which sits on his head like a crown (he is indeed the prince of an industry that is growing at an encouraging rate).
Our interview begins with my first question:
I’m sure I know the answer to this; but, what is your favourite colour?
I like black a lot. I know some people don’t really see it as a vibrant colour, or a colour that should be called upon when this question is asked; but, black is really beautiful. It’s very diverse, as much as it seems like it’s a bland and somewhat simple colour, it has a lot more to it, it’s more than just a colour, it tells many stories.
So, why isn’t your label called ‘Black-Culture’? (Laughs) I was taking these creative writing classes back in Nigeria; each day we were given a theme; a theme we had to build on; and one day, the theme was ‘orange’. I decided to write a piece about a fictional character called Orangeboy: because I felt like Orange as a colour, wasn’t really seen as masculine. For me this character Orangeboy represented all those who had chosen to be proud of their seemingly distasteful career interests and not limit themselves to the norm; regardless of perceptions or judgement; to always be themselves. Anytime I saw a boy or girl that was just themselves and embraced their difference, I’d refer to them as ‘Orange’; and that’s how the name Orange-Culture came about. What are the adjectives synonymous with the Orange-Culture style? I definitely think fun, quirky, not very mainstream; Orange-Culture is also youthful; and there’s always something African about it; something that should transport people to my roots; to Nigeria.
Orange-Culture is rising high in the Nigerian fashion industry. If you could describe the current state of the industry in Nigeria, how would you describe it? Particularly in relation to the fashion capitals of London, Milan, etc? I think the Nigerian fashion industry is definitely doing a good job. I try not to compare it to London and the others because those are developed countries. Nigeria is developing; whereas fashion capitals such as London and Milan have been doing it for years, and have more developed economies. Nigeria is doing a good with the resources it has at its disposal. I feel like we’re budding seeds, and that we’re growing really fast. There was always an interest in Nigerian fashion from European and Asian markets, with their use of our fabrics and culture, instead of us just doing nothing and allowing people from other countries celebrate what we have, we’re now deciding to push it ourselves; and keep the profit within the Nigerian economy. We’re finally taking up our own resources and making things happen. Even the fact that media channels such as CNN, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Vanity fair et al are coming to discover the wealth that is the Nigerian fashion industry; shows that we are en route to something great, me thinks. Who is your role model in the industry back home? Omoyemi Akerele. She is my role model because unlike most people who see the Nigerian fashion industry as a money making venture; she’s chosen to help build it, and push it beyond its borders in a positive light; it’s not about money for her; it’s about creating an industry that puts Africa in a positive light. She inspires me. It’s time to make people see Africa and see beyond “corruption, poverty et al” and that’s what Omoyemi is doing; in her own way.
Seeing the career that Akerele has forged, what are your aims for your own career in the next few years? That’s a hard question. As much as I try to plan things, I’m a very spontaneous person. When I started working as a fashion editor, I didn’t plan it; it just happened. The same when I started working as a stylist: it was something that I just got into. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was definitely going to design. So in five years, I hope that my label would have gone further and that my collections will be stocked in even more countries, I want to see people I don’t know wearing pieces from orange culture, see pieces spread far and wide, and hopefully work on more projects in the industry .
To end, who do you think is most stylish; boys and girls here in London, or their counterparts back home in Lagos? People will hate me for saying this, but I think English style is the ultimate. I’ve been to other countries, like Paris, and I feel like London is the only place where I can walk on the streets and say that I see actual style. Don’t get me wrong, Nigerians dress amazingly; but alot of people lack originality; dressing based on the trends of other countries. But with that being said, I know some really stylish people in Nigeria; I would raid their closets in a heartbeat; but style is rare in Nigeria;90 per cent of people who think they’re stylish in Nigeria, are not: they’re just following trends But wouldn't you say that people in London are just the same? This is the thing, I feel like in any country there will be more people who follow trends than people who have style; but in London, that proportion is a bit more tolerable than in Nigeria. In London, there is probably 60% trendy people in relation to 40% stylish; in Nigeria, it’s 90 -10.
Well, talking about stylish, which stylish celebrities would you like to see wearing Orange-Culture? As I’m moving more to menswear, I think I’d like to see someone like Frank Ocean or Miguel in my clothes; they both have an edge. Even the lead singer of Bloc Party, Kele Okereke; I love his look; but I don’t think he has a signature style; I’d love to see him in African print.
I see you have impeccable taste even when it comes to your celebrities. Well. thanks for your time, Bayo. It’s been a pleasure. Pleasure is all mine, and I love The Street Gypsies. #TeamStreetGypsies
GREAT GUY! GREAT INTERVIEW!