Monday, November 12, 2012

"Wedding Stories" - A Memoir on Yemi Oshunkoya of KOSIBAH COUTURE

The surprising thing about Yemi Oshunkoya - role model, fashion icon and award winning designer – is how very unlike an A-lister he seems in person. While working towards greater success, the reputable designer tells a tale of his journey from the early days, now and the ones to come.

The designer, Yemi Oshunkoya

I had a very happy and carefree childhood. Being the third of four boys born to professional parents - medical Doctor and Nurse respectively I was brought up within the University of Ibadan campus where we had the freedom to play outside and on the streets with relative safety. I’ve always had something real for fashion and design, from a very early age I was familiar with the arts; very good at drawing human figures and always dressed them quite fashionably. This was spotted by my parents and Art teachers in school and I was encouraged and nurtured to continue to improve. As I reached my teenage years, the age of fifteen specifically, I began to fully understand exactly what a fashion designer did and realized this was a natural progression for me. I became influenced and inspired by the 50’s New Look pioneered by Christian Dior. 

The amount of couture work that went into creating those gowns is simply amazing. Starting out was interesting, I initially made design sketches for family and friends which were later taken to dressmakers to make, I was young and na├»ve at the time with not enough understanding of the system but I grew stronger, I improved as time went by, I didn’t let anything or anyone hold me back as I always wanted to be successful in whatever it is I did as an adult even before I identified what it is I wanted to do. Back at the Obafemi Awolowo University when I was studying Fine Art, majoring in Textile Design; I participated in different fashion shows under the label Kosibah Creations - a name coined in honour of my mother, the name Cosibar comes from the Republic of Benin and is the day name of a female child born on a Sunday - but my designs were made by a dressmaker because at the time I didn’t have a clue how to sew but had plans to study fashion design after my degree course, which is what I went on to do at the Paris Academy, School of Fashion London. My knowledge basically increased after my experience at the Paris Academy where I studied fashion and design. I officially started the label, Kosibah Creations in September 1991 when I believed I had gained good amount of knowledge, I was more experienced and started making plans to do what I’ve always wanted to do - create. From the very beginning, I have always wanted to create beautiful, well crafted and wearable gowns. Not deliberately creating costume like gowns just to please photographers on the catwalk, some may say I play it safe. I would say my aesthetic is more Armani than Lacroix. Kosibah specializes in contemporary and elegant couture bridal, evening and formal day wear using luxurious fabrics and sumptuous embellishments cleverly recreating the classic and elegant hourglass figure and because my designs are a mix of feminine sexiness with understated easiness I try to achieve the delicate balance between making my client celebrate her femininity and sexiness without tipping over to vulgarity. This is important because I specialize in bridal wear and most of my clients have religious or cultural limitations they I have to adhere to. I keep that very much in the forefront of my mind when coming up with designs for each client in front of me after asking numerous questions. With a celebrated clients base that includes Louise Rose, leading actress of Universal film Life & Lyrics, Alesha Harvey, Sheila Ferguson formerly of the Three Degrees, Hollywood actress Indra Ove, Miss World Agbani Darego and singer Stephanie Benson, we ensure to maintain a standard that’s well accepted and respected worldwide.

Yemi Oshunkoya bridal wear sketches

There has been lots of challenges, majorly from starting out properly, setting up a business, sorting out finances and all the elements that make up running a successful business: marketing, book keeping and taxation, advertising, administration and constantly coming up with fresh and original designs which might not really be the same others, but I guess one major challenge faced by Nigerian designers that may not be faced by others most importantly would be the lack of constant electricity which must be a nightmare. Immediately, your profits are soaked up by fuel for your generator and its maintenance. Securing loyal and self-motivating staff must also be a constant challenge. However, despite these and other challenges, Nigerian designers are now stepping up to the plate and raising their game and are on par with their international counterparts, when I first started it wasn’t very common for people, especially men, to be designers. There were some established Nigerian designers like DaKova, Labanella, Moufechi etc and absolutely no organized fashion weeks or exhibitions at all. Now, it’s very popular as people have realized the economic advantages it can realize and there are now loads of fashion weeks, large and small. In all the most exciting and important thing to me is the satisfaction of doing something I’m good at and enjoy. The fact that I now get flown around the world and put up in fabulous hotels in beautiful locations in connection with my work either for fashion shows, events or clients weddings makes all the hard work very worthwhile. I trained in both women and menswear, but I chose to specialise in womenswear for the fact that it’s what I enjoy most. Creating my signature figure enhancing couture bridal gowns also gives me the opportunity to help my clients look and feel their most attractive and beautiful on their special day which also gives me an ideal opportunity for my work to be one of the central of attractions on the day. Which is essential considering the amount of time spent in making one bridal design piece, the fact that all my gowns are bespoke and made specifically for each client I’m constantly coming up with new ideas and techniques to create these gowns, always improving on the last work done. It starts with the consultation with the client where the design is created and fabrics, embellishments, colours are decided. I then take about twenty six (26) very precise measurements of the client. I make a Body Block from which the Master pattern is derived. I make a toile (mock version of the gown in calico or muslin fabric) for the client to try on. Usually, because I almost sculpt the shape of my client from this toile, I make another one with any amendments that came up from the first. Only after the toile is deemed perfect, do I return to the Master Pattern to add all the other bits that make up the real garment and extract the patterns to cut unto the actual fabric chosen for the dress. A lot of hand finishing is involved but of course I have a design team that helps me in the studio.

Which is why I’d say design is a challenge; one has to constantly come up with original ideas and work out ways to make them a reality. It comes more easily to some than to others, the most important thing to learn is never to rest on your laurels but continue to strive for excellence. You are only as good as your last collection.

This article was first published in Mania Magazine, October Issue. Copies can still be obtained at any nearest bookstore, supermarket or vendor.

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