Nigeria inspires me, especially in my creative work-Ola Ebiti – London-based Nigerian style consultant

Nigeria inspires me, especially in my creative work-Ola Ebiti – London-based Nigerian style consultant

Ola Ebiti, a freelance editorial and commercial stylist is into menswear based in London. He’s known for styling the rich and famous. He has shot for international titles like the Sunday Times in London, The Telegraph weekend style magazine. ID, Nataal and Cactus in Milan. He recently worked with Ibrahim Kamara on the New cover of ID Magazine featuring Solange Knowles. A writer, photographer and style consultants to the stars, Ola studied Fashion Communications at Northumbria University, London. He then decided to focus on business of fashion; he built styling expertise when he worked with some of the big newspapers and fashion stores in the world. In this interview with KEHINDE OLULEYE, he speaks about his passion for the style business, family, love and other sundry matters.

HOW did it all start?

I studied Fashion Communication in the University and in A-Levels, I did Economics and Business. My interest in fashion really started as a young child. I always really enjoyed flipping through magazines, particularly Vanity Fair and Sun Vogue but it was more like fashion and culture and every time my daddy travels, I’d ask him to bring magazines, even ones from the airplanes. I was always collecting, I have quite a lot of magazines but I don’t collect as much today because everything is digital now but I still have all the magazines that I have collected from like childhood. And then that kind of went on to consuming quite a lot of fashion content because I think when I went to school in the UK, that was like the rise of fashion on the internet as well. So, I was taking in a lot; I used to read in school when I would have prep time. I would print out a lot of articles from fashion publications and read them in between my books, making me quite obsessed. At that time though, I was studying Economics and Business, doing fairly well in it but my passion wasn’t there. In school here in Nigeria as well, I did the same Accounting and Business really well also but without passion. It was just something that I did because I was expected to and then after a while, I realised I wanted to do fashion and so I got the courage, spoke to my mum about it and she was very supportive because she was very aware having seen me reading magazines with so much interest, admiring the way she dressed, she would ask for advice, then I guess she spoke to my dad about it.

What was your dad’s reaction?

He wasn’t particularly against it but I think he was just shocked because he never knew that side of me at all and I was really good at my courses. So it wasn’t like I failed and wasn’t doing really well. He thought, you know, “he’s doing okay” and it just came out of the blues for him. He didn’t really understand the whole idea of fashion and its lucrativeness. He didn’t really understand it. He wasn’t against it but he was weary though quite supportive. I mean, I remember we went for interviews with universities to attend fashion courses; he was like “I still don’t understand this fashion thing but let’s go ahead and do it anyway.” So, my mom was more in support. It eventually worked out in the end because when I got to Northumbria University, United Kingdom, it was immediate and I did really well. Then, I got a first class and dad got really happy. He even flew in 15 family members there to my graduation. That was why he was like “okay, okay I might not understand but I think he’s doing really well at it.”

From then, I started interning at a lot of places. I remember, there was this magazine called FAB Magazine, they had a London office then and I used to intern there while in university, so I would go in two or three days a week or so. There were only two or three people with a really small office; all I used to do was a lot of online writing for their blogs and stuff like that. Their fashion editor was in Nigeria at the time, so if they had anything that had to do with London, I had to go and represent. After that, I wanted to do bigger; I wanted to get in other bigger magazines, so I interned at MaryClaire for about two months; with this first internship, refference is made to other magazines so I went to The Times…

(Cuts in) Is it as a writer?

At that time, I was doing a lot of writings, yes, especially at MaryClaire; I was doing a lot of writing. From there, they took me to The Times Newspaper, London. I was working at the fashion desk and again, doing a lot of writing. Then, I used to support the fashion editor with her shoots and from there, they took me to The Guardian where also, I was working at the fashion desk and doing the same thing. As it was a really small team as well, I would do the fashion and still write copies for the website while allowing me do the Twitter sometimes but now, they have a social media person that does that completely.

From there, I got a seven-month placement at a design fashion magazine called Wallpaper and that was really when styling took full stage because asides styling, I was working under the men’s wear fashion editor, Jason Huce. It was like a really good fashion magazine. It’s a very European fashion design magazine and he also loves tailoring. From there, I kind of really learnt how a suit should sit on a person and how your body should move in clothes, just how to make an image really good. I think, for me, that was how I learnt.  A lot of my work is like reference from his taste and the way I just saw him styling.

After that, I just freelanced and assisted for a long time. I assisted another resident stylist called Jack Bruckett; he now works at British Vogue. I assisted another stylist; she did women wears more but she used style David Beckham, her name was Karby Kastrine and later it was another stylist called Coby Yabes. From assisting all of them, there were opportunities and from then, I started styling on my own.

For how long have you been doing this?

Styling full time, I would say about five years now but assisting while I was in university, it is eight years. So I was working at Wallpaper immediately from university for those seven months and assisted for another two years after until now. I finally got that confidence to work by myself. Also in the UK, they have a lot of e-commerce – where you can buy clothes online and from there, I used to work with a lot of selfridges in the UK because I used to style a lot of their looks for online shopping; that was also very good for me because selfridges have the biggest brands in the world, so that really taught me to merchandize clothes to brands and who their customer is. It gave me sort of a taste level which was really important. So after that, I started reaching out to my contacts and friends. From there, I would get opportunities to work with some people may be like a photographer in a relationship with a musician. So, that was how it started. For someone like Wizkid, I was working for a magazine freelance called Something About and I knew the editor really well. That was at the time Afrobeats were becoming very popular in the UK and they were looking for someone who wasn’t really mainstream but was very interesting to use on their cover and Wizkid had just signed with his label in the UK, SonyMusic.

Obviously from assisting, I knew these people really well; so I was like “oh, why don’t I put you in touch with the people?” And they were like “it was a perfect favour.” Definiyely, I negotiated that I would style him in that respect. So, that was how I happened to style that magazine covers for Wizkid and he was very happy with it;; so we ended up doing another music video together. I’m still in touch with his team but I think Wizkid likes to style himself. He likes that power with himself.

How about the photography aspect?

In the university, I took photography as well and did a lot of them and at the end of my university course, there’s this thing called graduate fashion week where all of the students of all the fashion schools come together and they award Best Designer and so on. I was one of the finalists for Best Fashion Photographer for graduate fashion week. Also, that really helped me get internships but when I started, they didn’t really need me to photograph as much.

Although, when I was in FAB Magazine, I used to take pictures because when we would go for shows, I was writing and taking photographs. That was when I managed to explore my photography and I even managed to photograph some people like Denola Grey. I’m still really good friends with him. I still take photographs and actually, it has helped me because even when I go into a shoot with a photographer, I know what I want.

What does photography mean to you?

A photograph means something that can really create some kind of emotion within you. It has to be able to stop you, like if you’re walking on the street.

Before you go further, you’ve worked with Beyonce’s sister, Solange Knowles, and that was a big one. Can you tell us how it was like?

We styled that shoot under the head stylist Ibrahim Kamara and it was recently for the cover of Ideal magazine. It was back in September because she had just released her new album, so we went to Texas for a few days, met her, prepared all the looks together, started from the cover idea and she was happy with it.

Were you able to meet Beyonce?

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet Beyonce but Solange was there and she was really lovely. She remembered every one’s name and even sent Ibrahim an e-mail to say “thank you” that she really liked what we did.

So how does it feel like to be clothing or working with the stars?

I used to be very nervous about it but now, I think the more you do it, the more it is just like another day. And I don’t think about it in that sense, like I don’t think about them as celebrities. I just take them as persons that we are working with; today, it happens that they’re big musicians or something like that.

How lucrative is this business?

To be very honest, particularly for me because I do both creative and commercial; it’s a very hard business.

So you are not smiling to the bank yet?

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Not so much because styling for different people is very different. There are some people that can be just commercial stylists and I’m both a creative and commercial stylist. When you do creative jobs, there’s really no money. You have to put your money in there for creative jobs. I’m thinking more of long term goals because when I used to assist, it was the same thing all those stylists that are really big now used to do. If you want be considered for those big shows, you have to be both a creative and commercial stylist. Hopefully, it’s an investment I want to make for myself. I don’t want to be big now. I am happy to wait because one thing about fashion is that one day, you’re in and the next, you’re out. I don’t want to be a one hit wonder in my 20s and a nobody in my 30s.

When styling a celebrity, do you work with a budget in mind or negotiate with the person?

I negotiate the production with the director before-hand and budget for everybody that is going to be on camera so that everyone is equally catered for. But it depends on the scale of the job. But when you’re working with big musicians like Davido, they know that the budget is an investment and they are always very ready to accommodate you.

For someone who has styled the rich and famous, what does style mean to you?

Style is something that you either have or you don’t. It is innate. It comes from the way you see the world, colours and basically everything. Although with the internet today, you can fake style but you always know style.

What is your style like?

My style is comfortable but tailored. I don’t really wear a lot of jeans except when I am on set. I like to wear button-up shirts and tailored trousers made by Nigerian tailors. My style is also formal. My creative works also reflect on my Yoruba heritage; my mum is the source of information on that for me.

How would you rate Nigerian fashion designers compared to their foreign counterparts?

Nigerian stylists are doing really well considering that there are a lot of struggles here for creatives in Nigeria more than in UK. There are fundings, free fashion schools in the UK but in Nigeria, we don’t have those; even if you want to shoot in Nigeria, there is the stress of being harassed on the streets. So I feel if you are taking all of that and are still able to contend with people in the international fashion market,then I really think we are doing a good job.

Kenneth Eze was just nominated for the MFMH prize in Paris, which is like the biggest young designer prize In the world at the moment  and he is a Nigerian. He makes his clothes in Nigeria using Aso-Oke textile but he is still perceived to be as good as the other designers in Paris and New York. One thing about Nigerian people is that we would always make things happen regardless. We are doing a pretty good work.

What inspires you?

Nigeria inspires me, especially in my creative work. People that have a really nice sense of style also inspire me. People who know how to put things together aesthetically inspire me.

For someone who has styled many famous men, do you say you re-invent yourself?

I think they have a specific way they want to look so that is much easier.

And what excites you?

I’m excited by people who put together things I had never thought of. When you work with someone that has a completely different point of view from you and sees the world in a completely different way, it means the opportunity to change things is endless. Watching runways also really excites me.

Which local and international celebrity do you want to work with?

My local celebrity would be Mike Odunti. He’s a great songwriter and musician. For my international celebrity, I think maybe Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) because he is a very creative person.  And if he was still alive, I would have loved to work with Fela.  He dressed really well. He always had amazing trousers.

You mentioned earlier about what you loved wearing; so what would you not be caught wearing?

Baggy jeans! I also won’t be caught sagging ever. Trousers are supposed to be on the waist but some put them on their hips. It doesn’t sit well with me but I can’t tell people what to wear.

All work and no play make jack a dull boy. How do you unwind?

I hang out with my friends quite a lot. I watch a lot of movies and television shows. I do it for leisure. I read a lot of Nigerian books because I like to read what I can relate to rather than the Shakespeare and the rest. Often times, I go to Oxford and have a good time to chill.

Are you married? What’s your take on love, marriage, and relationship?

I’m not married, although my mother still feels I should be married at my age. I am just waiting for the right person to settle down with. I want a person that gets the kind of lifestyle I want and also the kind of person that has a passion for what she does because I am very passionate about my work in fashion. Even if it is in banking, writing or whatever, I just want the person to be passionate because we would feed off each other’s energy to make us grow. I think we should get married when we want to and not when our parents want us to. As Nigerians, we should understand that marriage is for a lifetime. We need to allow ourselves sometimes to grow as individuals.

Are you particular about race, black or white?

I’m not particular about race but dating in the UK has opened my eyes to many things.

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