Duro Olowu, originally from Nigeria, is a self-taught designer known for his use of mixed prints. He is currently based in London and has been showing his collection at New York Fashion Week for the past few seasons.
Can you tell us about the installation at Salon 94 in Freemans Alley? What made you decide to feature your collection in this manner now?
The installation and pop up shop at Salon 94 Freemans is a way of showing people how I see things and how this translates into my work.
I spoke to Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn about doing this and she was immediately up for doing it. The show is a sort of calling card of the kind of shop I will have in New York at some point. It is also a large scale version of my London boutique in Masons Yard, where my clothes and accessories sit alongside art, photography, vintage jewelery and objets trouvé. I wanted to create an assemblage of things that I find inspiring, and mix them up with limited edition pieces from my current SS12 collection and some of my older pieces.
The idea was to create dizzying yet calm atmosphere with art, objects, furniture, textiles, jewelery, etc., sitting alongside each other in perfect harmony. I have photography by Juergen Teller, Carlo Molino, Marilyn Minter, and 85-year-old Malian photographer Hamidou Maiga; David Adjaye mirrors; Rick Owens furniture; hand painted books by Glen Ligon; antique Yoruba textiles and vintage Swiss couture fabrics; Betty Woodman vases; Matt Merkell Hess ceramics; Maria Pergay furniture;Tony Cox woven canvasses; and Katherine Bernhardt paintings. I also felt the Freemans space in the Bowery was perfect for this kind of show.
I showed my fall 2012 collection separately to press a few days after the opening at the Hotel Pierre by private appointment.
There is some amazing artwork in the show. What’s your favorite piece?
I like each and every piece of art which is why they are included in the show. However I have a soft spot for the Juergen Teller images shot in Hydra for Tank Magazine and in Regensberg, Germany for Self Service Magazine, both of which were styled by me.
At what point did you feel your collection became successful? Was there a certain retailer that you started working with, or editorial piece that you felt put you on the map?
It really started with the reaction from women who saw my first collection at the end of 2004 which included a dress now known as the “Duro Dress.” Sally Singer, then of Vogue, now of T Magazine, was an early champion. She bought a couple of dresses and was constantly accosted by women on the street about them, so she did a piece in Vogue which caused a bit of a frenzy. Barneys and Jeffrey in New York, Ikram in Chicago, and the wonderful and now deceased Janet Brown in Port Washington were early retail champions and things really took off from there. Spotting the dress on real women in different cities in the world and seeing all the copies it sparked made me realize how successful it was. That collection also won me the Best New Designer Award at the British Fashion Awards in 2005 even though I had never done a catwalk show. As far as I know, that had never happened before.
You were a practicing lawyer for years. Where did you get you design training?
I am self taught. But my real training came from years of making things for the sake of it, as well a stint in Paris working freelance. Also, about four years before launching my label I was one half of a label called Olowu Golding with my then-wife, who was a shoe designer. I designed the clothes while she did the shoes. We also had a small boutique off Ledbury Road in Notting Hill at a time when it still had a super creative vibe.
Did you work for other designers prior to launching your own collection?
Who do you consider your muse?
Rather than a muse, there are women that I find inspiring. My wife, women I have been fortunate to meet through work, or friends, or chance. Most importantly though, I am inspired by a smart, independent minded woman. An international, open minded person with allure.
What is your inspiration for the Fall 2012 collection?
The collection is inspired by a Egon Schiele’s “Self Portrait with Peacock Waistcoat” from 1911. It is my feminine “dandy” take on lush dressing, with sharply cut coats and jackets alongside more flamboyant dresses, Mongolian fur trimmed trenches, chunky graphic knitwear and bias cut gowns.
Will there be any special additions this season aside from ready-to-wear?
Handmade bags. I have designed a line of jigsaw patchwork sling totes, shoppers and clutch bags in warm neutrals with zebra pony inserts which were shown as part of the Fall 2012 collection.
How do you like showing in New York vs. London or Paris? Why did you make the switch?
It’s been 3 seasons and it gets better each time. I loved showing in London where I still spend a lot of my time and where my studio is, but New York has been both a great education and an inspiration. The immediate reaction and support is rather encouraging, as is the acceptance of new ways of doing things. The reaction to the show and pop up at Salon 94 has been fantastic. On the business side it also helps to show in a city where Fashion Week is treated with such seriousness and the infrastructure around Fashion Week is terribly efficient.
You’ve mentioned wanting a retail space. Is there a New York neighborhood you have in mind?
I realize it’s a whole different mind set in New York when it comes to shopping. Being uptown or downtown really is seen as a very important choice, but I think people will travel to shop where they feel what they want is. I’m still looking at different areas.
Are you considering expanding the collection into menswear?
Menswear is certainly still in the pipeline. I did a few successful capsule collections at the beginning but the womenswear grew so fast, I had to put it on hold. A classic but sharp and experimental mens line is in the works and will hopefully be launched for Spring 2013.