Ade Bakare On Creating a Legacy (Part One)
Ade Bakare is a British-trained Nigerian couturier well known for his exquisite designs, which have been showcased all over the world including Morocco, Cape Town, Monaco, London, Vienna, Mozambique, New York and Paris. Bakare was notably Stella Obasanjo’s official designer and over the span of his nearly 25 years of catering to private clients across the globe, he has been priviledged to design unique pieces for royalty, aristocrats and famous women across Europe and Africa. His designs have also been featured in some of the biggest international publications such as Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and GQ. In the first instalment of an exhaustive interview with Omenka, he reveals how it all began, as well as the future of Ade Bakare Couture.
When did your interest in fashion begin?
My earliest memories were flicking through fashion catalogues at the age of 6 years and being captivated. Later, I started drawing but many of my sketches were of clothes. My mum identified them as fashion illustrations, so I guess the seed was planted then. I was fortunate to have been encouraged from an early age because of my fashionable parents; perhaps they saw my skills as an extension of their style.
In 1991, you started your fashion label in the UK and moved to Nigeria in 1996. What prompted this move and what was the reception like for you?
I have never fully moved back to Nigeria; I shuttle between both capitals, London and Lagos. Our design studios and manufacturers are in London, where I create the couture line sold to our clients in the UK and across Europe, while in Lagos we have a boutique. I initially came to Nigeria on the invitation of Chief Sunny Odogwu, who organised EcoFest, an event which saw designers from across West Africa showcase their designs. It was here that I was introduced to the late First Lady of Nigeria Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, who then appointed me her official designer. This allowed me frequent Nigeria and due to the constant demand from clients for our designs, in 2006, we opened the Lagos boutique. We have been very lucky as our client list keeps growing over the years. Recently, we introduced a ready to wear line, which clients can pop into the shop to buy in most sizes.
How has your work evolved since your move back to Nigeria, and what impact have these different locations had on you?
As I explained earlier, I have not moved back but maintain a shop in Lagos. One of the great benefits I found working in Nigeria was my exposure to ‘African’ textiles; being born in England and spending most of my creative years abroad, I knew little of what was African. I remember fashion editors in London asking me to draw influences from my heritage to use in my collections but I drew a blank! It was due to my interactions with clients in Nigeria and abroad, as well as with staff, I grew more aware and began using adire, developing it further and using it with silk, to give it more of an international appeal.
What inspired your 2017 Spring/Summer collection?
The theme for the Summer 2017 range is called Total Luxury/ Proudly Nigerian. I took influences from the major tribes in Nigeria and made a conscious effort to promote Africa. We also themed our Masai Collection for Summer 2016 Proudly Nigerian, as the current trend is of Nigerians looking inwards to see what they can create for themselves. It was a huge success too. Nigerians have a tendency to always appreciate what is foreign at the expense of what is ours, thus devaluing it, so I felt I can use fashion to highlight this imbalance. Because Nigerians appreciate beautiful things, we used exquisite fabrics, fusing them with traditional textiles obtainable in Nigeria, and adding plenty of embroidery and embellishments…thus the term total luxury.
How do you start a new collection, and what is your creative process like?
We design 2 collections a year, Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. The Summer collections are usually shown in Nigeria as it is mostly warm throughout the year, while the Winter collections using thicker fabrics, are more suitable for the West.
Regarding our creative process, we start with a theme, then build upon this with mood boards, on which we stick things that inspire, for reference. It is like a research process, at times we might fly to a particular region for in-depth studies, trying to gather as much information as possible. The design process then begins with sketches that evoke the theme. They may take months with up to 500 drawings done. This is followed by a selection process with the design team. Here, we deliberate on those we feel have are strong and original, though sometimes some of the initial sketches are reworked. Finally, we eliminate to select a maximum of 30, including blouses, trousers, jackets, dresses and coats, each having a link that holds all of them together. This process is repeated for the ready to wear and couture collections. However, each design is a statement piece, so they don’t all have to fit in. It’s an exciting period and the future of a design house depends on this sacred process that could make or break it. It involves much collaboration with the tailors and hand sewers. Toiles are made (prototypes) in a thick cotton called calico; this gives us an indication of what the outfit would look like when fitted on a life model. With fabric swatches pinned to them, the toiles can be changed. Illustrations are 2-D, so when translated into 3-D, they give a different look all together. When each design has been completed in the toile and approved, it is then made in the fabric; it is very exciting to see your designs come to life.
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