Monday, 16 March 2009

Conversing a fashion rebel

HE is busy working on his laptop when I call at his shop located on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi Lagos. As usual, Emmy Collins, Nigerian-born London-based fashion designer is his usual self; he is clad in one of his outfits, which normally stands him out on every occasion.
“Hi, you are welcome,” he says as we shake hands. “Please make yourself comfortable.” I quickly pull one of the stools closer, ready for the chat; we actually schedule to meet at his shop, but as it turned out, Emmy’s hands were a bit full with work.
“Please give me sometimes let me round off with this,” he quips, with his eyes glue to the screen. Well, it’s obvious that whatever the Imo State-native is working on this afternoon is of very importance to the business, so, I had to make do with some colourful magazines lying on one of the stools.

THOUGH based in the UK, Emmy returned to the country two years ago to open what he simply described as a ‘flagship store’, with the intent of creating an avenue for his cliets, who wear his label. Currently, the London trained fashion designer is planning a fashion show, which he predicts, will be the best in Nigeria.
“It’s holding sometime in March but I can’t tell you the particular date for now. What I’m promising is that, with the creativity and planning going into the event, it is going to be big,” he boasts.

EMMY Collins is an avant-garde and versatile designer, who is rapidly gaining a reputation for making garments that cut a real dash in a jaded fashion industry.
With clothes characterised by sharp, funky tailoring with a fresh, startling approach to colour combination, the light skinned designer is beginning to establish himself as one of London’s most flamboyant designers in recent history. Having stamped his authority on the London fashion scene, Emmy is now looking homewards in his quest for a glowing career.
Describing his designs as “never being in vogue therefore can never be out of vogue,” the one time student at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, before jetting out to London for further studies, has designed clothes for notable personalities such as footballer William Gallas of Arsenal FC, Jay Manuel of the Next American Super Model fame Phil Colen of the rock group Def Leppard among others.
However, Emmy’s resolve to toe the fashion line was not accidental; he has always been a fashionable guy from age 11 at the Government College, Umuahia, Abia State, where he started crafting designs for himself.
“I could remember when my sister was having a wedding and my parents bought some clothes for me, which I didn’t think was good enough; so, I had to source out my own suit for the wedding. So, I’ve always been into fashion for a long time. But if you are talking about Emmy Collins proper, the label has been on for about five years now, ” he says with broad smiles.
According to the designer, meeting American songwriter/artiste, Prince, in New York in 2001 was an inspiration to a hobby that has finally ended up as a passion.
“I met Prince in a lounge and I was with my friend around. Later, one of his men came to say that Prince wanted to see me. So, I went and spoke with him. I had this caftan on, it was really African but westernized; a fusion of African and western and he loved it because it was a kind of funky. He asked where I got it from and I told him I designed it myself. Then he asked if I was a fashion designer, I told him no at that moment and he said I should think about it.”
And “having been a fan of Prince for a very long time and having loved his fashion sense,” Emmy continues, “that was a major inspiration for me.”
With his father relocating from the US to Amsterdam, Holland, Emmy followed suit but stayed for just a while.
“Amsterdam wasn’t really a fashion city, so, I left for London. Sometime in 2003, I did my fashion management course in London under a guy called David Jones, whom I regard as my mentor; he’s been in the industry for a very long time and he has nurtured the career of a lot of designers,’ he informs. He’s like a guru. In fact, he’s the chairman of London Fashion Forum at the moment,” he notes. “Having done my fashion course and knowing all the nitty gritty of the industry, I formed my label in 2004 and since then, it’s been going from strength to strength.”

THOUGH his original plan was to start as women’s wear designer, inavailability of creative men’s wear designers at that point changed Emmy’s game plan.
“Everybody was just doing what everybody was doing. So, I thought I could bring some kind of attitude just to refresh the scene.”
However, one wonders how Emmy managed to convince his parents to settle for a fashion designer son in an era where medicine, law and engineering continue to be the more preferable?
“In my family everybody has known me as a rebel,” he reveals. “I’m the last of seven, so, I didn’t think they were waiting to get a lawyer son from me because I’m the last; they already got engineer and all they got. This was what I chose to do and I just did it and no one bothered me. But I could tell you, some of them don’t even understand what I’m doing right now; they just know I’m a fashion designer,” he says with laughter.
They must be happy for you now?
“Yes, they are actually happy that I’m being recorgnised in Nigeria, so, I don’t see any of them having a problem with that,” he notes. “When I started, I was already on my own; I wasn’t under anybody. I’ve been on my own for years doing my own thing; I’ve been into entertainment, I’ve been into other kids of business. I just decided at a point, this is the time for me to live my dream, do what I love doing; I believe I was born to do this.”
Ask Emmy what makes his designs outstanding, then you will get something like, “the details and cut. If you put on my shirt and you get on the street, people will tell you, ‘that’s Emmy Collins, so, that’s very distinctive.”
When it come to colour, Emmy is eclectic.
“I use colours, I blend colours,” he sings. “I’m not scared of using any colour because I believe that every colour is a good colour; it depends what you make out from it. For instance in one shirt, I could have three to four different fabrics in one shirt and I make them work.”
Right now, Emmy’s greatest ambition is to build a brand that will last after him.
“I like to think that when I die, people will look at me and say ‘that was the guy, who tried to bring a change in the industry.’ The ambition is to build the brand Emmy Collins in Nigeria and from here we can diversify to other places like South Africa and the rest.”
You are moving there soon?
“I’ve people bothering me to go to South Africa. In fact, their Embassy a while ago wanted to sponsor me to go and have a feel of the country’s fashion industry, but that time, I had a fashion show coming on. But if I get the opportunity once more, I’m definitely going to take it.”
For Emmy, inspiration comes from different angles.
“I think I’m, naturally inspired; I’m self-motivated,” he enthuses. “You see me sometimes and you think I’m just sitting there, no, I’m there thinking; I work all the time,” he says. “In fact, I had a girlfriend, who went crazy about the whole thing, because we could be asleep and something comes up, I will get up. She’s a light sleeper, so, immediately I get up, she gets up and she won’t be able to sleep again; we used to quarrel about that… a lot of things inspire me; I can’t really put my hands on them now.”
As for fabrics, “It depends on what I’m making. If I’m making like a long dress, I love something flowy like chiffon, silk… because I think it’s soft to the body and makes women look sexy. But for shirts, I could work with anything ranging from cotton, polyester, line and whatever as far as I like the colour.”
According to Emmy, the label has evolved within the last three years.
“I’ve got women’s wear range now. And I’m going to be launching what I called…It’s actually a fusion line, which is going to be a corporate from Emmy Collins. You know, I found out that a lot of them love my designs, but it’s not something I will advise people to wear to work.”
Are you trying to create a different clothesline?
“Yes, these are like your work wear, but in anything I do, there’s going to be a touch of Emmy Collins,” he assures. “It’s like you going to work in a very stylish wear and your boss is not going to be angry.”

NO matter what you think about Emmy, his popularity is huge and he’s fully aware of that.
“Look, I’m a guy you cannot just ignore; even in America and Europe. When people see me on the street, they are already wondering what is he doing? Even before I came into the country, people already know me.
“It’s the dream of every designer to brand his label. In Nigeria, it just happened for me; not just because I went out and come back. Even when I was in UK, I was granting interviews to reporter, sometimes online. So, Emmy Collins is branded in Nigeria right now.”
He continues: “When I actually started, I used to put my logo on a few clothes. But now, I had to put it on all my designs, because people won’t buy it if they don’t see the logo. So, for people to have recognised the logo and see it as a sign of authenticity, it makes me glad,” he enthuses.
The designer recalls some negative comments from friends at the initial stage when he resolved to think home.
“When I came into this country, a lot of people said, ‘oh, no one is going to buy your outfits, you are too radical for them; you are too this, you are too that.’ But I’ve always been an optimist. If I believe in something, I chase it. If I lose, fair enough, if I succeed, so be it. But to get into the fashion industry, you have to be a rebel; you have to gatecrash”
Was that what you did?
“That’s what I did in places like UK, where you have solid designers with billions of pound, and this is the kind of people you want to compete with. You don’t just go in there and stay quiet; you have to make yourself noticed,” he says. “So, when I came in, I came in with very strong collections and people were like, ‘who’s that guy with such boldness?’ I mean, you might like it, you might not like it, but at least, you will take notice. That was the only way I could have done it.”

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