Nigerian-Born Duro Olowu Democratizes His Designs

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

(c) 2013, The Washington Post.

Nigerian-born designer Duro Olowu's print-heavy, color-saturated clothes have garnered high-profile clients including Michelle Obama — at equally high price tags. But the sundresses, handbags, sandals, luggage and home goods in his new limited-edition collaboration with JCPenney ( all cost $90 or less, making his worldly wares accessible to nearly anyone.

Q: How did you get your start?

A: I designed this one particular style of dress, put together in different limited-edition prints. It would sell out at Barneys, Jeffrey, all over the world. I was nominated for Best New Designer at the British Fashion Awards, and I won, based on that one dress. It was really kind of a whirlwind.

Q: What type of woman do you think wears your designs?

A woman who is real. She's not a fashion fanatic, but she loves beautiful clothes and beautiful things. She wears things that people will remember and that she will remember.

Q: Yours will be the first designer collaboration with JCPenney. What was the process like?

A: I thought, if you're the first, you can ask for total creative control. They just kind of said yes to everything! I'm very hands on. With the ad campaigns, the photographers, the models. It was a first for them, but also a first for me.

Q: The prices are so affordable.

A: It's amazing. If you look at the collection, there's enamel buckles and brocade. The home goods are amazing for what you're paying. It was a challenge, but JCPenney realized it was possible. The democratization of my designs is very, very important to me.

Q: How does it feel to have Michelle Obama as a fan?

A: It's something I'm really honored by. She's a woman. She's not just the first lady, she's a role model in so many ways. I never know when she'll wear my designs. That's the great thing. She orders pieces and I never know when I'm going to see them on.

Q: How do you recommend wearing such loud prints?

A: People always say if you're a bigger person you shouldn't wear prints, but that's not true. It all depends on the color combination. It's nice to have a touch of a print, even if everything is monotone, like a blouse or a clutch. And if you wear two, it cuts the eye. Prints always make you feel warm in the winter and full of life in the summer.

Q: You're a big fan of fine art. How does it affect your collection?

A: It's nice to just look at things and not have to own things. That's the beauty of museums and galleries. I grew up reading about how artists and fashion designers appreciate each other and how art is important to design, whether it was cubism or more modern movements in photography.

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