You might recognize Duro Olowu’s work before you recognize his name.
His 2005 debut collection featured a vibrant, printed silk dress, now known as “The Duro.” It was so chic, easy to wear and figure flattering, that fashion editors the world over declared it the dress of the year.
It was promptly knocked off by the high street mega-stores on down to the street vendors. But the copies only made the highly creative originals much more covetable.
Your work is pretty grounded in your Nigerian and Jamaican roots. What was your childhood like?
You know, we would come to London from Nigeria and buy the bell bottoms and cheese cloth shirts. I would listen to Jimi Hendrix and the Jackson 5 and my parents would listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. We would often go on holiday and my mother would buy all of these silks and take them back to her dressmaker.
Those silhouettes influenced me. She would mix up her Nigerian clothes with what we bought from Europe. And so I learned at a very young age, that what we were lacking in Africa was that kind of supple silk. Everything in Nigeria was made of these sharp fabrics like cotton. So I grew up with this obsession with transferring that cotton reel of cultures to silk.
You studied law, how did you end up transitioning into fashion?
Well to be really honest, my older brothers and sisters were sent to school in London and really messed up. (Laughs) I’ve never told anyone that. So I thought that the only way I was going to get to move to London for school was to study law.
I knew that my father, in particular, was not going to pay for me to go to [the fashion school] Central Saint Martens. When my parents visited,
I would move all of my magazines out of the room and borrow my friends’ law books. After school, I did my national service in the Army and then I moved to Paris and worked as an illustrator for designers. And through that, I kept meeting people, Azzedine Alaïa for example.
And then I kind of learned and built a career over the course of seven years. It took time.
Your Duro dress has been copied and re-copied. Not to mention ethnic prints, your signature, are very trendy for summer.
It’s good to have influenced things. On one hand it’s flattering. But it’s just annoying when it’s badly done.
It’s tough because I own my business 100 per cent you know. But it’s really something when people refer to a dress using your name. It’s a privilege.
Have you felt any pressure to live up to the popularity of that dress?
For me, the real pressure is the process of putting on a show and trying to get my message across in 15 minutes. There’s always pressure, but I’m not 23. I know what I’ve gotten into.