In 2004, the Nigerian-born fashion designer Duro Olowu launched his first collection, after switching from a career in law. The next year he was named New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards and has since become known for his vibrant, statement designs.
Now, he attributes his success to the women who buy his clothes. “Nothing is as important as their loyalty and interest in my work and I am grateful for that,” he tells us. "I design clothes that make women feel good about themselves and confident about their role in the world.”
His spring/summer 2017 collection, named Stylish Activist, was inspired by the political activism and personal style of Nina Simone in the 1960s and 70s. He explains, “It was a response to Brexit and the alarming extremist rhetoric of politicians in Europe and elsewhere, including America. For me, there needs to be an elegant rebellion against the racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia that is sweeping the world.”
The designer’s brand is still independent after all these years. "I am lucky enough to be in complete control of how I run my label. I've grown it at a pace that allows me to concentrate on quality not quantity. I can choose how to show, where to show and where to distribute,” he says.
This agility allows him to pursue other passions including contemporary art. He curated two exhibitions in New York in 2012 and 2014 and this year the "Making and Unmaking” museum show at the Camden Arts Centre. Despite splitting his time between these two cities, London is his true home. “My studio is here as is my boutique in Mayfair,” Olowu says. "I love this city for its reassuring multicultural social mix. It has a fantastic international cultural scene of art, music and fashion. I love the fact that, after over 30 years of living here, individuality and non-conformity is still very much part of the creative scene.”
Duro Olowu shows Because his favourite spots in London:
I travel a lot for work so being in London at the beginning of the week can be a rarity for me. I live near Ladbroke Grove and close to Golborne Road so before heading to my studio, I usually stop by my favourite shop in London Les Couilles du Chien. It has a wonderfully sophisticated and eclectic selection of antique furniture and curios. The owner Jerome Dodd and I have become great friends over the years so I bring coffee from Oporto cafe across the road and we catch up while I browse his latest stock. I’m excited about his Les Couilles du Chien concession opening on the top floor at Liberty London at the end of January.
Tuesday mornings are reserved for visiting museums. The Tate Modern currently has two spectacular survey shows up. One on the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam and the other on the American artist Robert Rauschenberg. Both shows are mesmerising and unmissable.
I tend to spend all day working in the studio until the early evening so supper out on my own or with a small group of friends is the norm. J Sheekey Restaurant or Hix at Brown’s Hotel are great places to eat and talk.
I try to visit gallery shows close to my boutique in Mason’s Yard. My two recent favourites are shows by Derrick Adams at Vigo Gallery and Huma Bhabha at Stephen Friedman Gallery.
An early morning browse in the market at the top of Portobello Road is a Friday ritual if I'm in town. I'll also usually end up at Honest Jons records rifling through and shopping for vintage soul, funk, Jazz, reggae and dub vinyl which I find very relaxing. If I have time I'll stop by Rellik; they have the best selection of nicely curated vintage clothing in London. I usually leave with a vintage piece by Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Gibb or Jean Muir for my wife Thelma Golden.
Text by Nada Abdul Ghaffar