Like a coat of many colours, Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor‘s artistic interests include music, dance, drama and fashion. Famous for her jewel-bright Nigerian clothes, Isibor is on her way to becoming one of Nigeria’s top fashion designers. In this interview with Moni Agbedeh, she tells us about her vision and inspiration and why we can count on her never to quit!
Your photographs are like art works, with so much use of colourful Ankara, flowery prints, fascinating hair dos and turbans. Why do you choose to express yourself this way?
Thank you. I love to look how I feel, which is hopeful and optimistic. I love when people tell me that I’ve inspired them to express themselves more. It is always a blessing to hear because it is always my dream to inspire. I also enjoy making people smile. All the colours, prints and nature-inspired hairstyles I wear seem to encourage people to say, ‘hi’ and that’s nice too. Mostly, I do it because I have so much fun exploring visual aesthetics.
I have a self-titled fashion line also called ‘The Venus Bushfires’ with dresses, kimonos, detachable collars and Earth, Wind & Fire-inspired African print capes. I’ve been designing ties and detachable cuffs so I’m excited to introduce more beautiful and wearable accessories next season. My fashion line is an extension of my music and they are intricately intertwined. There is an element of fantasy, as well as my African roots in my designs. I don’t enjoy seeing or wearing boring clothes, not when there’s so much fun to be had with infinite shapes, colours and fabrics. I hope to push the envelope forward with my next few lines and hopefully present them at my own fashion show.
Are you as committed to fashion as you are to music and humanitarian activities?
I don’t feel I can separate fashion from my music or humanitarian activities. They are not part of my job so to speak; they are part of who I am. I can’t say there is a point where anyone of these elements stops and the other starts. For me, they are all fluid forms of expressing my creativity, passion, love and hope in the human spirit.
Your creations are basically expressed with Ankara fabric, why?
I enjoy making clothes with this fabric because it’s bright, bold and beautiful. It’s also malleable, which works well with my designs. I got all the fabric for my first collection from my great aunt’s shop in Benin City. I drew the designs and chose the fabric while my cousin Yvonne did the tailoring. It has been a wonderful inter-generational collaboration that has transcended four generations in my family. When I wear my designs on stage, I literally feel the support of my whole family. It’s like a big hug from my whole family while I perform.
Do you make your own sketches?
I certainly do. That’s one of the most fun parts of the creative process.
People often tell me that my music makes them feel relaxed and reminds them of water. I like the idea of movement, even in a structured piece. I love contrasting colours such as royal blue and orange, red and grey, and monochrome in patterns that leave me reminiscing about clouds, whirlpools and swirling winds over the desert.
Apart from displaying your collections on line for sale, how else do you advertise your work, do you for instance, participate in fashion fairs?
I haven’t participated in fashion fairs yet but I look forward to hosting my first fashion show, fairly soon. It might even be in the form of a live concert. I’m getting excited just thinking about it.
How would you describe your sense of fashion?
Hmmm… I think eclectic fantasy Afro-oriental fusion
What is your greatest achievement in the world of fashion so far?
I was the first to wear Ankara and geles the way I do in Shoreditch in East London. It’s a fashion-forward district and years ago, these styles were far less common to see there. Now, it’s been embraced by so many different cultures and used a lot in mainstream design and technology, as well as fashion.
by Moni Agbedeh
Full interview published in Cloud 9, Dana Air’s inflight magazine
March 25, 2021