IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER ENUKE
Christopher Enuke is a Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based international fashion designer. While growing up, he was highly inspired by his mother, a fashion designer. Her work and innate sense of style fueled his creativity, and after his high school in London, he studied patternmaking for two years at the Paris Academy. Between 1980 and 1982, he studied Textile Design and Graphics at the Richmond College Surrey, London. He earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Fashion/Apparel at the Otis College of Art and Design formerly Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles, United States in 1984. His designs for men and women cut across, sportswear, outerwear, leather jackets and bottoms, hand knit sweaters, hand loom and fully fashioned sweaters, cut and sew knits, soft wovens, dresses, footwear and denim. He is very well known internationally for the fit and washes of his denim having featured in several international magazines like American Vogue, French Vogue, LA Times, WWD, Marie Claire, Elle and Lucky. On graduation, he launched his Oliver Twist line around hand knit sweaters, and later his Oligo Tissew (a named he coined for refined cloth) denim line. Enuke has worked as the Creative Director at BEBE BLACK LABEL, Adriano Goldschmeidt (AG), Bebe, BCBG and UNION. Presently, he is planning a launch of chic new looks in denim this fall with his eponymous denim label, Kristopher Enuke. He also supports educational initiatives in Nigeria with proceeds from his businesses.
Can you tell us how long you have been working with denim and knitwear?
I have worked with knitwear, denim and several other aspects in fashion for almost 30 years now.
You have interesting names for your labels like Oliver Twist, Oligo Tissew and now Kristopher Enuke. Why did it take so long to arrive at an eponymous line?
I have worked at several labels especially denim ones from the beginning of my career and I am still at KASILRARE vintage. I also had the Oliver Twist label, which was inspired by the hidden potential in every individual even though he or she may be in ‘work houses’, hence the 3-D stars on the back pockets of jeans. I just didn’t feel I should put my name on a label until now. Since I have built a reputation and following over decades, I thought this was the right time to do something extra special and stamp my name on it!
What is new about this Kristopher Enuke Fall 2017 denim collection?
Thank you! I have learnt a lot with denim and I am exploring new forms to enhance the natural goddess nature of women, and the men in their lives while addressing a creative, expressive need that has not been around the denim-smiths category for a while. I see form and function as a cohesive statement in every garment and I understand the denim cloth and its manipulation in different washes. Since I have worked extensively with denim contractors, wash houses and finishing over the years, I am bringing all these to bear as I have a 3-dimensional approach to denim just like a sculptural piece.
Is there any inspiration from your Nigerian heritage in the collection?
The collection is about my Nigerian heritage! There’s a lot of denim out there, and the consumer is much more aware and individualistic. I have incorporated Nigeria’s more than 500-year history of the ancient, saturated indigo dyeing process done at the Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano, which has not changed much over the centuries. The methods utilized then, still create unique and unmistakable results today. I experimented with dyes in various colours to create layered effects and dip-dye treatments with a rustic, deep-indigo character for a trouser and jeans collection of exclusive quality and depth made with luxurious Turkish and Japanese fabrics. It’s a collection that is sophisticated and polished yet has a modern, artisanal look. I have tried to maintain a refined sense of style while reflecting the strength of our African crafts.
Can you share with us some design details?
There are minimal but deliberate design details, which include slanted welt pockets with decorative topstitching, as well as back pockets with patterns of a raven and phoenix in flight.
What is the significance of these bird patterns?
Representing regeneration and peace in old folkloric traditions, the raven is a metaphor for the time between, connecting your denim to deep roots, and your body to your inner goddess.
The jeans have names like the Corset, Governess, Duchess, and Queen. Can you tell us the significance of these names?
The goal is to help women feel confident and when they put something on, I want them to feel beautiful. I’ve always been known for the fit, and that’s what I wanted to build around. Each style is named to celebrate women. The Queen, a staple in the collection, is form-fitting with five-pocket styles; the Princess has a unique wraparound yoke, waistband and a welt pocket for a rock ’n’ roll edge; the Duchess has a similar wraparound yoke, waistband and features edgy zippers on the legs. One of my most innovative styles is the Governess, which is designed with a built-in corset and the high-waisted jean flatters, tucks and enhances in all the right places. To construct the jeans, I created a darted inside yoke, which acts as a corset, but the effect isn’t visible on the outside of the garment. What’s important is the way it sits on your hips. It does not allow the garment to constrict you in any way, but at the same time it shows off your form. There are also skirts and trousers in twills such as gabardine and satin.
Who will the collection appeal to?
The woman who is looking for a personalized fit and has her own sense of style. My past experience has always been to learn continuously with denim. The product is always evolving. What I’m trying to do is turn the tide. I think we’ve come to the top of the denim cycle and it’s time for it to begin to turn again. It’s time for people to look at their wardrobe and say, I have these jeans in my wardrobe, but I think it’s time for me to get something new and more exciting.
Do you have a brand spokesperson for the collection, having dressed fashion buffs, musicians and Hollywood stars like Lenny Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz and Fergie of Black Eyed Peas in the past?
No I don’t. What happens here is that, if you are a designer in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the United States, you need to ‘court’ the stylists who work with these people although that can get tiresome. When they become a little famous and want to show they have made some bucks and have upped their style ante, they then want to be seen in clothes by European designers. Fergie was a great fan of my high waist tuxedo jeans from my Oligo Tissew label. Back then she got five pairs in different colours and washes. When people are interested in my collections and jeanswear, they get them from stores or my studios.
Fashion in the United States and Europe is a multi-billion dollar business but also a cutthroat one. How do you survive the competition given the fact that socialites, actors and musicians are turning designers these days?
I design clothes, welcome competition and keep doing what I do. For me, competition is not tough in the sense that for some of these people, designing is a side job and many times it’s a trend for a minute though some have lasted. Some businessman approaches them since they already have a name and they partner. I love what I do and I am extremely passionate about it. I also keep re-inventing myself as complacency is not an option.
You have been featured in several international magazines, nominated for several awards like the Denim Designer of the Year 2007 by Los Angeles Fashion Awards and gained recognition at the Pasadena Art Museum fashion exhibition for hand knit dresses and sweaters. What do these do for you and your labels?
It helps to see professional bodies and award schemes validate your work as a creative person even though your labels already have a following.
You also have interests in education and set up an educational scholarship scheme in Nigeria. What inspired this initiative?
We have to think about the ones coming after us. In the 2006/2007 academic year, I returned to the Otis College of Art and Design as a volunteer mentor and teacher for the junior class and it was a fulfilling experience. About the scholarship scheme, one has to always remember who you are and where you are coming from because if not, you have no base or where to hang your hat. My father grew up in a small village in Arondiziogu, Imo State. Neighbours contributed funds to get him through school because he was exceptionally intelligent. If those people were not generous, my father would not have had that opportunity. There are many stars who remain hidden; meanwhile they can shine so brightly with good education. There is so much talent and promise in Nigeria and we need to keep taking stock of people who can believe in our country. Setting up scholarships will get children educated and I am happy to do what I can.
What is the brand’s philosophy?
Denim as cloth unfurls amazing heights in its possibilities.
Have buyers shown interest in the collection already?
Yes they have. The styling is very exciting, and then once the styling pulls you, the fit sells you. The collection has already been picked up by; Ron Robinson on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and in Santa Monica, California; Church in Los Angeles; Gilda’s in Newton Centre and some others.
What would you tell young designers?
Love what you do and be passionate about it. Be true to yourself and who you are as a designer.
Featured image: www.alchetron.com
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