Recognized as one of America’s best-dressed men, designer, attorney, and Afrobeat musician Walé Oyéjidé is on a mission to help all men unleash their inner fashionisto.
The former Afrobeat and hip-hop producer, Walé Oyéjidé, believes his life as a high powered attorney was leaning towards spiritual destitution.
Walé Oyéjidé: There are things you can do, and there are things you're made to do. So, the idea that I can work really, really hard and be a successful lawyer is great, but when you look at the other side of it you look at people who are maybe financially wealthy, but pretty much destitute in every other sense.
But the corporate world did come with some unexpected benefits.
Oyéjidé: I had to wear suits to work, and I ended up becoming, being selected by Esquire Magazine as one of the five best dressed people in the nation. And so I basically became this walking billboard for a well dressed man, wearing clothes made by companies who had no investment in me as a person. So there's this joint trajectory of like, notoriety for clothing, dissatisfaction with job, no creativity. How can I make myself feel more fulfilled, while maintaining this passion for clothing? And it just became well, I'm from this place that isn't really represented in this society. So why don't I, if I'm going to do anything, it has to be unique and new because why do anything at all. Why not fuse my heritage with my love for clothing.
And so he abandoned the law to found the menswear line, Ikire Jones.
Oyéjidé: It's really just a method of storytelling through clothing. It exists because there's a void. Kind of a love letter to my past. Clothes, they're inspired by Africa but shaped by European tailoring. I use the phrase often a love letter to my past, in the sense that I think we're all trying to figure out who we are. As much as things I make kind of extol my background, a lot of really is just me trying to find out where I'm from.
And the stories that thrive Oyéjidé’s wearable art, are both from his own cultural heritage and as a response to the world around him. For instance, 2016's collection, called And Other Stories By Our Stolen Children.
Oyéjidé: Which is a direct reference to children who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and other terrorists in Nigeria. And children of the migration crisis that's currently occurring between the Mediterranean and Europe. And just the idea that they're kids all over the world, not just African kids, but just kids who are kind of disappearing or going through these exigent circumstances. And these are things that faces aren't really put on these stories. We kind of hear about them in an abstract sense. So for me, I happen to be somebody whose medium is clothing and textiles and fashion, but I'm more interested in talking about these things than I am in saying here's a cool sport coat.
AJC: Besides Nigerian influences, you're a big fan of European art.
Oyéjidé: Yep, absolutely.
AJC: Where does that, how does that manifest?
Oyéjidé: So, I think the idea of that is just we all go into museums. You walk into the Louvre, or the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and you see these wonderful works by masters. And for the most part, there's very little representation of people of color, or black people, Africans, at least in these paintings. So for me, it's the idea of, you know, it would be nice if kids who looked like me, or if the younger version of me could walk into a museum and say, oh Michelangelo painted me in there. It's also, I think, an influence from my kind of hip-hop production background, where you take previously existing works, and you create something, hopefully, new and interesting.
But it took some time before Oyéjidé refined his unique style. Before embracing the bold colorful jackets that have become his signature, he took a stealthier, more cautious approach.
Oyéjidé: It was more conventional exteriors with bolder interiors. And the whole idea was just kind of like, it's a secret to the wearer. Which I think, it's an idea that has merit, and we still make things like that. But then it occurred to me that a lining is not gonna make the sale. It might, but it's kind of like eh, it's nice, it's cute, but it's not gonna, you know, be the difference. Whereas if you see this versus a Tom Ford jacket, it becomes which one do I want.
But wanting one of Oyéjidé’s more flamboyant creations, doesn't automatically instill in the wearer the swagger needed to pull it off.
Oyéjidé: Perhaps people who are drawn to my work tend to be confident enough. But I try not to let people convince themselves that something is not for them, just because they may have some perceptions about who they are. You know, I would just say that if it's something that you appreciate, wear it and people will believe what you believe about yourself.
AJC: A lot of designers have the runway version, and the couture version.
AJC: And are there different levels of what you're doing, and how much of it is as bright and colorful as this?
Oyéjidé: I never understood couture. I appreciate that it's art, but I don't really appreciate the idea of making things that people can't wear. Because for me, it's beautiful to look at this, but it's a jacket. I hope and expect that people will wear them and walk down the street and beat them up a little bit. So they're still functional items, even though they're very much story and artistically driven.
And for Oyéjidé, ambition is not measured by the values of the corporate world he walked away from.
Oyéjidé: For me success is not a certain dollar figure, it's not a certain amount of stores that carry my product necessarily. Those are things that I want, but for me, it's kind of basically being true to who I hope to be, and also giving my two year old daughter the idea that you can step into this world and make it as you want it to be.