Yoanna Okwesa, popularly known as ‘Pepper’ is a young bubbly Nigerian Fashion Stylist and Editor of FAB Magazine – a high profile African magazine that is published every quarter and sold in Africa, United Kingdom and America. Not a typical fashionable Lagos girl, Pepper says most of her friends refer to her as ‘a London girl with Lagos pumping in her veins and Cuba in her heart.’ Her style cannot be missed due to her unique creativity and personal style.
Mostly seen wearing long flowing twisted braids, turbans, head wraps and funky retro vintage clothing, Pepper definitely likes to mix things that makes her stand-out, she’s obviously daring and a non-conformist to the trends of fashion.
This young fashion aficionado holds a BA Hons degree in Culture, Society and Communications from the University of Birmingham and has worked as creative director for runway shows, fashion editorials and commercial projects. Also owning a clothing label ‘Purple Pepper Clothing’, which was born as a result of her love for arts, African heritage and photography. This lady of many facets travels round the world collecting vintage and retro accessories and clothing pieces for a boutique she co-owns with her sisters in Lagos known as ‘Retrospective’.
At the young age 15, Pepper already knew she wanted to work in Fashion, she started by styling and coordinating school and church fashion shows without any knowledge of what fashion styling was really all about, she has always had a natural flare and is creative and good at putting things together. At the time, most kids were into buying chocolates and sweets but Pepper used all her pocket money to buy fashion magazines and still does.
Her portfolio in fashion since the age of 15 has grown as she has held various roles at Pride magazine, worked on The Mayor of London’s Kulture2Couture Fashion Exhibition and worked for fashion label Maria Grachvogal at the Communications Store assisting during London Fashion Weeks.
She has styled for magazines including Arise, BHF, Canoe, Pride, New African Woman and True Love and has also styled celebrities including Shingai from the Noisettes, M3nsa & Wanlov The Kubolor, BezIdakula, Eldee, Keffe and Duncan Daniels and has directed collection looks for fashion designers Nkwo and Zebra Living.
Today, as the Fashion Editor of Fab magazine she works alongside Award winning fashion photographers Suby and Sinem and other established ones in the fashion industry such as Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Moussa Moussa and Asiko.
ONOBELLO.COM raids Pepper’s closet and brings you her favourite pieces, she also talks candidly about her personal style.
OB: What is your fashion background?
YPO:Well I guess you could say I was introduced to fashion from birth. My parents are stylish, especially in their hay days as it were, they really embraced the fashion and pop culture of that time and it was all around me. Probably one of the reasons why I love seeing old photos of my parents is just to admire what they wore. My mum just has a special eye for unique things and my Dad always says I come from a lineage of people who dressed well (Laugh out loud- lol)
OB: Most people don’t really understand what a fashion editor/stylist does. Can you tell us what your job entails?
YPO: Yes I agree they really don’t.lol. Well to begin with as a freelance stylist I am contracted/commissioned to execute the creative vision of my client, whether it be to art direct, an advertisement campaign, style a designer’s Spring/Summer collection for fashion week, style a designer’s lookbook, a celebrity for a red carpet event, a fashion editorial for the September issue of a magazine and so on. The idea is to be able to successfully translate the creative ideas and needs of your client or that of your own into the physical. Being a stylist entails you having a good team of creative Photographers, Make Up artists and Hair Stylists to work with on styling projects and shoots and an extra network of creatives to collaborate with.
You need to have a relatively good relationship with designers, publicists, boutiques to enable you to source garments and accessories that you will use for your shoots and shows. My work also involves attending fashion shows and press days to view designer collections, which is useful for styling and reports.
As the Fashion editor of FAB Magazine, I direct the fashion pages of each issue. I work with other editorial heads but very closely with the Editor-In-Chief and the Creative Director. I write articles, direct and style some of the fashion shoots. I commission writers, stylists and creatives to produce content; the fashion editorial shoots, fashion articles and features. Once these creatives and writers submit their work to me I then edit their work and have to painfully decide whether I am going to run or scrap their submissions. I generally organise and manage the fashion department, which involves a lot of delegating, a lot of chasing, a lot of praising which comes with a lot of telling off too. Oh and a lot of emails too (urgh!)
Being a stylist and fashion editor is not for the fainthearted, it is A LOT of hard work, late nights and back aches. After all the energy in managing and coordinating you still have to find energy for yourself. You’re only as good as your last gig, you have to always bring your A game to the table, you have to refresh your style, find inspiration in all things, you have to be able to critique and be able to stand critique. I really love what I do, I know my talent is God given which is why I gladly roll out of bed smiling that I am given the chance to do what I am passionate about. I never stop learning.
OB:What is a typical work day for you?
YPO: Making calls and writing emails. Chasing outstanding assignments, researching for an article, storyboarding for photo-shoots, or being on set of a photo-shoot, Skype meetings with the FAB team in London when I am in Lagos, designer show room appointments, attending press days and fashions show, posting articles on the FAB Blog and the list goes on…
OB: How many hours per week do you work?
YPO: I’m afraid to count.
OB: Since you have been working in fashion, what is the biggest shift you’ve seen in the fashion world?
YPO: Embracing African fashion by Africans and non-Africans, but most especially Africans. If you haven’t rocked an Ankara dress or African print piece then you haven’t started! We have now woken up to what can be done with our talent, culture and heritage, what magic can happen when we work together to present our vision of fashion and style. Rather than having fashion and style being dictated to us or waiting for that stale representation to duplicate we are being innovative with our fabrics, our experiences and using our own tools. As opposed to having the script given to us, we are now writing the script and sharing it to the world through different mediums. Without sounding like a pessimist, we still have a long way to go though. The other shift I have observed in the fashion world is the birth of online fashion, especially the recent phenomenon of blog sites. Fashion commentary by an average individual or ‘fashionista’ sharing their everyday experiences and expressing their love or sometimes hate for fashion brands and products has now become one of the major assets of the fashion world. Though I do not believe that there is total autonomy, independent fashion sites and bloggers have demonstrated how much their voices, views and followers are valued, which has lead them to assail the elitist world of glossy magazines, with a healthy number landing industry jobs, and attaining celebrity status.
OB: How has fashion gone from being a niche subject to something everyone talks about?
YPO: I don’t think fashion has ever been a niche; obviously today’s notion of ‘fashion’ has transited from something reserved for the rich to something for everyone, through political discourse, entertainment, the digital revolution etc; but fashion has always been around us, just talked about in different degrees. Now you can’t talk about a celebrity without talking about his/her style and how to replicate it. You can’t talk about going to an event without wondering what to wear in case you are papped (In Nigeria). You can’t talk about an awards ceremony without focusing on giving awards to the best dressed.
OB: What is your favourite outfit that you have right now?
YPO: All my outfits are special, especially my custom made pieces and vintage outfits.
OB: If you could hire any fashion designer to create a whole wardrobe for you who would it be and why?
YPO: I admire so many designers, I can’t pick one.
Missoni because I just love their signature print fabrics.
Duro Olouwo because his clothes are just joyful to not only wear but to watch too and I have so much to be joyous about.
Jean Paul Gaultier because for me his collections are classic and theatrical for me, sort of like getting into a character and I would like to have more opportunities to ‘dress up’.
Maki – Oh for her fresh design aesthetic and unique approach to clean designs that are contemporary African.
Ameachi Inhaecho because he has a great eye for creating beautiful statement pieces nicely cut from one off fabrics and he is awesome!
Be Grey because I love their use of colour and the way their clothes fit. I love the youthful sophistication of their brand too.
Lastly, for the sake of the interview Paul Smith because I like their take on masculine dressing for women.
OB: What are your top 5 essential clothing staples?
YPO: My Havana slippers, all the funky retro blazers I have, my Kurt Geiger boots, my George head wraps and the one pair of jeans that fit me properly.
OB: Is there any person or character whose style you really admire?
YPO: I have loved Kelis’s style since day 1. I really admire Andre 3000’s style and music too. Erykah Badu is style and individualism personified but I would love to flip the script with her. I like Supermodel Omayhra Mota’s style because she is bad ass and puts a spanner in the works.
OB: Is there a certain city or country that you think has great style?
YPO: London for being, unpredictable, eclectic and individual, Brazil for being sexy, laid back with doses of different cultural influences in the right places. Lagos for its boldness and charisma.
OB: Which colours/patterns do you love to wear the most?
YPO: I love wearing bold African prints, abstract and unpredictable patterns. I’m not too fussy with colours, I love wearing citrus shades because of the way it contrasts with my complexion. I love wearing purple because I like the way it looks on my skin too. I have always liked wearing black and I’m starting to dig wearing red too.
OB: Which clothes from what decade or era do you think should make a comeback?
YPO: The good thing about fashion is the way history always repeats itself; it is always being recycled and reinvented for the modern day woman and man. I really love the lady-like dressing of the 40’s, the funky 70’s and the eclectic 80s though.
OB: The biggest style mistake women make, what advise do you have for them?
YPO: When a woman doesn’t understand her body shape and follows trends blindly. I’ll advice a woman to get to know her body shape and wear what fits her so she brings out the best in her looks as opposed to wearing a garment or style because it is the latest trend.
For more on Pepper visit: www.pepperokwesa.com
Follow on Twitter: @purplepepperlov