Focus On: Duro Olowu

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. Take notes! Duro Olowu‘s bold fashion needs no introduction. Born in Lagos to a Nigerian father and Jamaican mother, Duro Olowu spent his childhood travelling between Nigeria and Europe. From an early age, his enthusiasm for fashion was inspired by the unexpected mix of fabrics, textures and draping techniques of the clothing worn by the women that surrounded him. The designer started his eponymous label at the end of 2004, and up to now he’s one of London’s favourite designers with a loyal, art-world-focused clientele (in a way, similar to Mona Kowalska’s now-closed cult A Détacher in New York). Alluring silhouettes, sharp tailoring, original prints juxtaposed with luxurious vintage fabrics in “off beat” yet harmonious combinations are Olowu’s signature. For spring-summer 2020 he drew on the work of Françoise Gilot, who is perhaps most famous for being Picasso’s romantic partner, though the 97-year-old French painter, art critic, and author is a creative force in her own right. Olowu came across a recently reissued collection of her travel sketches, and her colorful impressions of India, Senegal, and Italy from the late 1970s and early ’80s informed his new collection. One particularly eye-catching coat in that series was spliced with panels of pale pink made from vintage interior fabric that Olowu came across on a trip to Lille, in northern France. It was upcycling done with a sophisticated hand. Then, if you look at Olowu’s autumn-winter 2019 line-up, “cosmopolitan”, “chic” and “Afrique” were the three words that the designer used to describe the spirit the collection, which was inspired by Miriam Makeba, the fearless South African singer and civil rights activist. Makeba, who was known as Mama Africa to her fans, possessed a wardrobe that was purpose-built as a celebration of African pride at a time when her country was in the grip of apartheid. You could see her influence right off the bat, in a graphic knit coat with patch pockets and detachable snood (Makeba was rarely seen without a towering head wrap or hat). That motif was repeated to flattering effect on an A-line maxi dress that could have been pulled from her closet. The world of Olowu is eclectic and rich, and each collection tells a unique story. Induldge yourself in his idiosyncratic, feminine and timeless work by browsing his previous collections on his site. And if you’re in London, visit his boutique on 14 Masons Yard!

Collages by Edward Kanarecki, look-book photos from different Duro Olowu‘s collections.

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