By OYINDAMOLA LAWAL
RECENTLY, 35 years old graduate of Central School of Fashion and a trained Software Engineer, Ngozi Josephine Ochonogor, popularly called Gozi, joined the list of international artists to be profiled on J-Wave’s Modaista show. The interview brought Nigerian culture and music to millions of Japanese.
The lady revealed that she left software engineering for fashion and art, because “I thought I had something more to say. I felt that with engineering, I actually could not be the best that I could be and this is very important for me. I graduated from Imperial College with almost a first class but I know it still, I actually still do like programming for a few companies here and there, but I feel that I needed to give the world a little bit more and I found that, through fashion, it is working.”
At college, she concentrated on pattern construction, transforming men’s tailoring patterns into sexy ladieswear. She also worked at Anthony Reynolds Gallery where she gained inspiration from renowned contemporary British artists such as Mark Wallinger and the Turner Prize winners, Keith Tyson and Richard Billingham.
In her second year at college, Gozi created her eponymous label, which she sold at the funky Portobello Market. She quickly acquired a solid client base and became the go-to gal for stylists and Japanese clients. She also created her first collection for a small Paris SOP Lily per Pink.
Apart from chairing a panel of fashion designers at the Harvard Business School Africa Conference, she is founding member of the Fashion Business Club in London that provides a forum, which fashion entrepreneurs engage with, inspire and support one another. She says, “ basically, I was surrounded by all these great artists. They did film, they did sculpture, they did absolutely everything. I was really lucky to get that shop. My boss was thinking that I would give up lucrative career and to do fashion and I had no idea, I just walked into the gallery and said I was looking for a job, he was really intrigue by me and he gave me a chance. a lot of my work is actually art based because that is where I got my education from.”
In July 2003, after she graduated, Gozi set up her company Gozi Ltd. She launched her brand at London Fashion Week that year.
Her first catwalk show was very well received in Paris. The fall/winter 2004 collection, Biscous Josephine was selected by the Federation de la Couture to be showcased On-Schedule at the Carrousel du Louvre; unheard of for a new designer! It also attracted the attention of an impressive group of collaborators and sponsors: Swarovski, Erickson Beamon, and The Park Hyatt to name a few.
Her latest collaboration sees Gozi customizing the NY-born art figure Munny for Puma during the 2009 Tokyo Design Week, alongside 37 renowned designers.
Through her U.Mi-1, Gozi aims to bridge the gap between Japan and Nigeria, designing men’s and ladies wears. She says, “I make mens wear and ladies wear. When I did London and Paris Fashion Week, I started out as ladies wear designer. My clothes are actually quite strong, they are for the strong and comfortable women and as the mode change to very feminine, beautiful and filthy kind of clothes and I don’t do that. When I move to Tokyo, I created a new brand, UMi1, which is based on my love for Japan and afterward I decided to go back to menswear because I did study menswear at school. I do 70 per cent menswear and 30 per cent ladies wear now and it actually work for me.”
Gozi draws influences from a myriad of sources: from science, art and dance, to a love for traveling and learning about new cultures. In each collection, she strives to find harmony between apparently polar opposites.
Gozi explains, “I am inspired by artist, a lot of artists. I used to be a soft engineer, when I finished that I decided I needed an education in art but I went to couture school, so I decided to get a part-time job at a Reynolds gallery, luckily for me a got a job in one of the best and still best art gallery in London. About five of the artists have won the turner prize, Steve Macquineso, Mark Wallinger, Keith Tyson and Richard Billingham.”
U.Mi-1 (You. Me. One) is her second label and includes both mens and ladies wear. The U.Mi-1 brand embodies the similarities between two cultures: Japanese and Nigerian, and is her homage to the country she believes is almost like her own Nigeria. The brand aims to create a fashion as art brand through collaborations with home-grown artists.
She has collaborated with artist such as architect/artist Megumi Matsubara, Tamaki, textile designer Fumiko Egawa, sculptor Tetsuo Harada and design company plusminuszero. “Basically, u stands for you, mi is me and 1 is one. You actually refer to Japanese people, like I said when I moved over there, I felt that their spirit is similar to that of Nigeria, so, I decided to name my brand after the love in which I have for them.” Gozi states
For her, style is personal, she explains: “I think style is personal, its what you wear to make you look good and you have to carry it up properly. What I wear, will not fit you because we have different bodies and different look. For me, it is just about being comfortable in what you are wearing and having your own style and not following the trend and kind of looking good.”
She adds, “during the day, I am more like a jeans kind of person and during the evening I get dressed up. I work a lot, in the morning, I just want to wear my jeans, I have got natural hair, I don’t want to comb it, I just want to go.”
Talking about her impression of Nigerian designers, she says, “I think they have a long way to go. A lot of people are doing really great stuff, but we are still doing bespoke fashion. It is painful that We have not moved on. I actually loved that because I believe if we can take that to another level and make it polished, it is actually what people in the Europe do. We could actually still follow what is going on outside and make commercially viable clothes. We still have that pool of people who can actually make bespoke clothing and that what I do; I do a bit of both. I don’t need to work with African clothes. If you look through my photos, even if it is Europeans modeling it, you could see that the African spirit comes out of it.”
Gozi disclosed her prize range, “Shirt is about N30, 000, pants is about N70, 000. It is quite affordable. My brand is actually a denim brand; I make denims. What I do is, with the advent of denims, everybody makes denims, but I don’t do five pockets denims. Denims are quite special, so I incorporate leather and different fabrics into my denim, so, you can wear it to anywhere. There are some places where you cannot where jeans to go in but a lot of people still want to wear jeans, so there are actually dressy jeans. Basically, I use it as a fashion fabric, for me it is just cotton for male and female.”