Duro Olowu, Inspired by the World
The Nigerian-born, British-educated lawyer-turned-fashion-designer merges riotous prints with daring shapes for collections that transcend trends — and global boundaries.
“I DON’T FOLLOW trends,” Duro Olowu says. “I’m inspired by the world.” Coming from a designer whose patchwork empire-waisted “Duro” dress has been a hit since its 2004 Barneys debut and spawned an ethnic-bohemian pattern-overload collection coveted by Michelle Obama and Solange Knowles, it is a bit of an understatement. The 50-year-old Olowu’s clothes are an artful mash-up of his background: Raised in sophisticated circles in Lagos by a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother, he spent childhood summers in Geneva, went to Canterbury University and lived for a year and a half in Paris, inspired by his heroes like Azzedine Alaïa. His mother mixed Yoruba tops with YSL Rive Gauche scarves; his Caribbean cousins sported reggae chic. “My path was not straightforward,” says Olowu, who first sketched clothes as a 6-year-old. “It’s made me open to things, able to see things in a certain way.”
A lawyer in London until he launched his line 11 years ago, he met his wife, Thelma Golden, the gamine director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, soon after she contacted him to have a Duro dress made. They split their time between New York and London, where in his boutique the clothes are displayed amid 1960s photographs of Mali beatniks, necklaces made from small brass hands that once hung off royal horses in Morocco and books on Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin.