When Lanre DaSilva Ajayi was only a university student in the early 2000s in England, she had an epiphany that told her she was going to go on to become a fashion designer, “I knew that I was going to create pieces that personify sophistication, femininity, brilliance and boldness”, and today, almost 10 years down the line, these are things that still inspire her as each of her collections are born out of, “couture, colour and boldness with an edgy twist, that’s the signature of my designs”.
LDA as she is popularly called these days- an abbreviation for her eponymous brand Lanre DaSilva Ajayi, started her early education in Lagos. After her secondary school education, she moved to England where she studied Business Administration from Coventry University and went on to further her education with a Masters degree in Finance from University of Leicester. Though in the mix of things, she took short courses at the London School of Fashion to solidify her natural flare for designing.
For this interview (which I was commissioned to write for Complete Fashion Magazine, October 2012 Edition), I pay LDA a visit at her Dolphin Extension flagship store in Ikoyi (which is a regular for me, as I represent her as PR and we are close friends). We're sitting at a table teeming with glue, scissors and drawings at the back office. She's wearing a beautiful A-line Guipure lace dress with gorgeous petal trimmings around the bottom, as well as dangly diamond earrings and proper make up of bright red lipstick and all the others stuff that goes on the face, you will think she was going for an elaborate cocktail party, but not so, this is how LDA dresses up everyday, she is a shining example that your profession should be your lifestyle if not, you will not excel at it.
Only just in her early thirties, and one of Nigeria’s most feted fashion designers, she is many things – businesswoman, recipient of numerous awards and accolades and happily married with two children – but one thing has remained constant: her standout bold and lavish designs from the others. “I creatively combine pattern, print, exquisite and even traditional fabrics to produce day wear, evening wear, gowns and cocktail dresses that bridge time and make the label successful within and outside Nigeria”. She says.
This interview is to shed light on the fast growing designer. In June this year, LDA showcased alongside other African and International designers at the Pitti Immagine W held in Florence Italy. LDA was part of the designers selected to showcase from Nigeria coordinated by Style House Files Director, Omoyemi Akerele. At the tradeshow, LDA presented her Autumn/Winter 2012 collection to buyers across Europe.
Earlier this year also, the brand has been featured in the much celebrated fashion magazine, L'Uomo Vogue, May-June 2012 “Rebranding Africa” Issue, as an evidence that Africa is developing and progressing continuously, LDA was featured along side influential personalities such as Presidents, First Ladies, and Queens, artists, writers, musicians, designers and models, and tourism.
The feature in L'Uomo Vogue, was as a result of the visit of two of the most powerful people in world to Nigeria early on in January this year. Renowned fashion designer Roberto Cavalli and Franca Sozanni Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Italia. This visit resulted in LDA presenting a capsule collection during the Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week Fall 2012/13 at the United Nations initiative “Fashion 4 Development”.
Also, as a result of this visit, the brand made a ground breaking entry into the international market, pieces from the brand were launched on Yoox.com (an Italian fashion retail giant) in May this year with a special project –“Discovered in Africa by Vogue Italia”.
LDA sold on Yoox.com (an Italian fashion retail giant) in May this year with a special project –“Discovered in Africa by Vogue Italia”.
As LDA prepares to unveil her Spring/Summer 2013 collection at the MTN Lagos Fashion and Design Week this Saturday 27th of October 2012 and with so many other things happening with the brand at this time, she still finds time to chat with us on her plans for the business of fashion going forward.
OB: What first interested you in fashion?
LDA: I am a very creative person and love to work with my hands. Whilst living in England, I became even more intrigued with English couture, the love and fascination for garment making became more established.
OB: Tell me about your studies in the UK – why study business and finance and did you work in this field before going into fashion?
LDA: I was very good with mathematics and liked professions that had relations to it. I decided to study Business Administration and Finance, because I looked forward to working in a financial institution. Moreover, I worked briefly in the banking/financial sector both in the UK and Nigeria.
OB: How and why did you go about setting up your label in 2005? What were your aims?
LDA: Whilst studying in England, I would make outfits for myself, my sisters and some of their friends, we all wore the garments then mainly for university functions. It was back then I felt the public interest in my designs, on moving to Lagos after my studies, I got married and started work in a financial institution. However, when I got pregnant, it was not easy to continue with the existing job. I decided to pull resources and develop my passion for fashion further, it was not also easy for me to find dress makers to make the kind of garments I liked to wear for me, as you know my style is not ordinary, I like my outfits to have an element of character. It was the beginning of my label, it must be said that I was not sure of who will buy the outfits! My aim was to define my target audience, I started with friends and family, gradually the word got out there. Fashion has an element of confidence that comes with it, I started off with avant garde pieces and my clients were not ordinary right from the start. Today, I will say the average Nigerian woman is more confident to show off an avant garde piece as compared to six years ago when they were not so sure of themselves as regards to fashion. Good news for the fashion industry in Nigeria.
OB: What were your early collections like and how were they received?
LDA: My early designs were very conspicuous, avant grande and very grounded in 1940’s English couture. I think the designs came as a shock to the average Nigerian woman, however there were people that bought and understood my early style and the signature of my label and they have stuck around to see me grow to what it is today.
OB: What was the Nigerian fashion scene like at that time?
LDA: The fashion industry at that time was like a newly born baby. I had to source for tailors locally, basically re-educate and train them as it was difficult for them to understand why I wanted certain things to be in a certain way. Also, the media exposure towards fashion just started and I had to work on exposing my brand with word of mouth. People came to me to get clothes made for them either because they had seen pieces they liked on me, my sisters or friends at public functions.
OB: How has the brand evolved over the years? Major milestones / proudest moments? Accolades and awards?
LDA: Every moment in my career has been a milestone for me, however I will particularly like to point out that I was particularly proud when I showcased collections internationally at the Africa Rising Festival London (October 2008), the Arise Africa Fashion Festival, South Africa (June 2009), the New York Couture Fashion Week (September 2009) and the Arise Magazine Fashion Week, Lagos (March 2011).
I am also particularly proud of showcasing at the Pitti Immagine W held in Florence Italy with the help of a dear friend and fashion entreprenur Omoyemi Akerele, my feature in L'Uomo Vogue and my pieces being sold at Yoox.com.
OB: What's you're design philosophy today? How would you describe your aesthetic? What is your fascination with Victorian silhouettes?
LDA: As you know my signature and main inspiration comes from English 1940’s couture, however as I am Nigerian and based in the country, my aesthetic is focused around my clientele which are mainly women in the country so I always put in mind their body type how a confident Nigerian/African woman want to dress and be seen in today’s ever changing world. I must also point out that my designs are not limited to just Nigerian woman as I make clothes for any sophisticated, feminine bold and brilliant woman across the world. My fascination with the Victorian era/silhouettes is simple, women back then were particular about their looks and took care and time to achieve it and show their curves in a lady-like manner without coming across as vulgar. Women dressed like they were queens and confidently showed great taste in style.
OB: How are your designs influenced by your cultural roots and African styles of dress / compared to inspirations further afield and international fashion trends?
LDA: There is a very strong influence the signature English 1940s couture however I always try to merge this with my African roots in any piece I create. Like any established fashion designer in the world, I forecast trends based on history and seasons in fashion. My designs evolve continuously as it is important to keep things fresh and interesting all the time. Like I mentioned, my designs are not limited to just Nigerian woman any sophisticated, feminine bold and brilliant woman across the world can pick up any of my piece and I believe she will stand out and make a fashion statement.
OB: Which local fabrics do you use and why?
LDA: The beauty of my pieces is that I am not limited to a particular fabric or accessory as this can make things boring after a while because people begin to forecast what a designers next collection might look like.
For me, I have worked with every known fabric, from Silks, Tafeta and Velvet to Lace, Sheer and Ankara prints, just name it! That’s what couture is all about, being able to turn simple fabrics into beautiful creative work. That’s why it is difficult for anyone to predict what my next collection might be as I always bring something new. My designs are consistent and you can point an LDA piece wherever you see it.
OB: Can you tell us about your upcoming Spring/Summer 2013 collection? What should we expect?
LDA: Expect bright colours, it’s a summer collection so there are also exquisite print fabrics, am so excited about the collection.
We are going for very modern classic cuts but I can’t give all the details just yet, everyone will have to wait and see.
OB: Do you feel that this collection is an evolution for the brand?
LDA: Like every collection I produce, it is an evolution.
OB: Nigeria’s fashion industry is growing at a fast pace. What are its strengths and weaknesses – creatively, economically, the media, retail, infrastructure?
LDA: The fashion industry in Nigeria is growing at a tremendous rate. The world is beginning to take notice as we are blessed with a lot of talented young people that are willing to work hard. One thing is that we need to start taking fashion more seriously as a business and not just something to spend time on.
What we do not have however are financial investors, I have been lucky to have been assisted along the way, I met Mr Kola Karim, CEO of Shoreline Energy, he facilitated the coming of Franca Sozanni to Nigeria and see where that has lead to today, some many opportunities have come from that. We need more people like that in Nigeria.
There are loads of other things affecting Nigeria like power and commercial retail, these issues need to be tackled.
The Vogue team with Roberto Cavalli & Mr Kola Karim (2nd from right)
OB: Does African fashion get the attention it deserves abroad? Can it compete with the best in the world? What are the obstacles?
LDA: I think in the last year other parts of the world is just beginning to catch up with what we have in Africa, it’s like we just became the new buzz and fashion has only realised that we have been relegated to the background far too long. We are not getting the attention we deserve at the moment but I know we will catch up very soon.
We will give our counterparts a run for talent and creativity but like you have mentioned we do have a lot of homework to do. We have to overcome our financial, economic and infrastructure issues to be able to compete on the world stage.
OB: How do you feel about international brands referencing what is often described as African style – animal prints, raffia, head wraps, beads etc? Who does it best? And why is Africa such a recurring theme / inspiration in fashion?
LDA: Like I have previously highlighted, Africa is the new buzz and Western themes, styles and eras have been a bit overdone and overplayed that I believe they get a lot of inspiration from Africa so they are reinventing themselves and referencing African styles. I have to confess that they are all doing a good job, however what they could do to make it better is actually partnering with African designers who know these styles, lived and grew up around them and collaborate with them to it even better and more real.
OB: Who are your favourite African models – past or present – and why?
LDA: I love Iman, Alek Wek, Ajuma Nasenyana, Katoucha Niane, Oluchi, Agbani Darego and Ajak Deng. These women are beautiful, intelligent and hardworking ambassadors from Africa carrying the continent where ever they go.
OB: What are your plans for the next season / next year? And what is your 10 year plan?
LDA: I have a lot of plans for this year and they will slowly unfold, one major one is that we are working on getting my pieces into luxury stores in the UK, Europe, Asia and America. All the hard work is beginning to pay slowly as my Press office will be announcing them as soon as all the paper work is done.
OB: What are the city essential items you cannot do without?
LDA: My blackberry, sketch book and pencil, an oversize leather handbag, lip gloss and lipstick, a pair of heels and sunglasses.
OB: What do you do with all your money?
LDA: It all goes back into my business, I spend a fortune on buying fabrics and trimmings.
OB: Tell us about your craziest fashion moment?
LDA: When I bleached my hair as an undergraduate in university.
OB: What is the most fun thing you have ever done?
LDA: Trip to the pyramids of Egypt.
OB: Your most wild Fashion item ever worn?
LDA: PVC pants.
OB: What’s the most fun place to go?
LDA: I love going vintage shopping-Portobello Market London.
OB: How do you relax?
LDA: Spend the day with my husband and reading.
OB: Where is the best place to shop and why?
LDA: Italy, the Italians have a keen sense of Style
OB: What has been you greatest challenge so far?
LDA: I don’t see anything as a challenge – I am blessed to be doing what I love most.
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