We recently caught up with Walé Oyéjidé from Ikiré Jones to discuss his Fall/Winter 2014 collection.
You generated quite a bit of buzz with the “Untold Renaissance” last season where you highlighted Africans in the Renaissance. You’ve returned for the Fall/Winter season with a collection titled “Of Saints & Savages”. What is the meaning behind the name?
“Of Saints & Savages” was intended as a commentary on Western paranoia where Africa and people of African-descent are concerned. It is a paranoia reflected in everything from the bald-faced ignorance of Ebola media coverage on cable news in America to missionary trips to Africa spurred-on by a wrong-headed saviour complex. At the heart of it, is the idea that there is a class of people too hapless to govern themselves, and another class who has all the answers by virtue of the geography of their birth. Some might call that “hubris”. I suppose this is my way of trying to turn the cultural knob on African news back towards rationality. There is much to be dismayed about where African nations are concerned. However, there are so many more beautiful things to celebrate. Sadly, the many things that inspire millions of Africans to wake up smiling every day are very rarely touched-upon in Western media.
The first thing I noticed from this season’s lineup was the ‘Teju’ sportcoat. Was it named after Nigerian-American author Teju Cole?
Yes, it was. I try to make it a habit to befriend people I admire and people that I can learn from. Teju Cole is both. I named a jacket after him as a small payment for him making our planet a better place through his work. Also, he’s a beast on Twitter.
With names like Oluseyi, Adelekan, Ayomide, Kehinde, Alabi, Mobolaji and Olufemi, the items in this season’s lineup have Yoruba names. Was the idea to inject your Yoruba heritage into the mix?
All of the other jackets this season are named after male figures in my family. The reasoning was two-fold:
(1) Virtually every African who visits the West has to bear the frustration and embarrassment of his/her name being butchered. This is assuming people even bother to attempt pronouncing it, instead of substituting it for something more easily relatable to them. This was my small way of injecting names of Nigerian descent into the global consciousness. They are names like any other, and can be said with relative ease by anyone who actually cares to learn how. A few extra syllables never killed anyone; yet there are people out there who act like they might. We’ve met them at our schools and at our jobs. Many of them are educated people in positions of authority, but who have yet to actually wisen up.
(2) On a more basic level, I just wanted to show my family that I love them and carry them with me. In turn, my customers will do the same.
You’re now offering winter coats for the first time. Tell us more about them.
The coats are a natural extension of the brand’s growth. It’s been a bit of a balance trying to figure out how to maintain the brand’s identity with each piece. This Fall/Winter we took heavier wools imported from Italy and lined them with Dutch Wax prints. It’s a cultural jig-saw puzzle that represents the mixed influences that many of us global citizens are inspired by today.
Your new squares and scarves are described as visual stories that subvert children of color in European fine art. Can you expand on that?
I’m sure it’s obvious from my ramblings, but social awareness is important to me. I’m a big fan of European art from the 17th-19th century. However, in those paintings, people of color are often depicted in subservient positions (when depicted at all). It’s difficult for anyone of African descent to look at those works without feeling some type of way, as the kids say. With the current collection, I sought to tell new stories with an old medium; stories in which African children were the focal point, and depicted as figures that provided solace, beauty or provoked revolution. This was my attempt to produce Classical European Fine Art from the perspective of an African child.
The squares and scarves are handmade in England, correct?
They are. It’s a bit of intentional irony. I like the idea of crafting these subversive pieces that comment on past and present class/racial struggles, while having the “African stories” made by English hands.
The new shirts in the collection are described as being inspired by your travels to Sri Lanka. How was that experience?
Like many immigrants before me, I learned early on that a passport and trip across the world makes for the best classroom. As a kid who traveled a lot, all I wanted to do was settle down. Now, all I ever want to do is be somewhere else. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country that is as sweltering as Nigeria is. I went looking for fabrics and was inspired by the casual tunics that men of all social classes wore. I think it’s important to borrow a little something from every culture one encounters. It’s a way for us to push each other forward.
So can we describe the new shirts as a combination of, for lack of a better term, an African aesthetic with Sri Lankan inspirations, or am I looking too deep into it?
I think that’s fair. The tunics really aren’t drastically different from anything one might see back home in Nigeria, except that they’re a little closer fitting to the body. That’s the beauty of travel. You realize that we’re all pretty much the same. Some of us use more curry in place of pepper. Some of us wear our tunics slimmer. But we all put our pants on one leg at a time.
Any more global expeditions in the near future?
If I don’t get back to Japan soon, the longing will kill me. I also would love to go back to Nigeria soon to shoot a campaign there. I think that will happen sooner than later.
Thank you for your time, Wale.
Thank you Atane, it’s always a pleasure.