It’s mid-day on Saturday 16 October, 2010.
We are at Lifehouse, a cozy artsy joint on 33 Sinari Daranijo Street, off Younis Bashorun, off Ajose Adeogun.
In few minutes, 20 year-old designer and Creative Director of Onyx & Pearls, Adebayo Oke-Lawal will be styling 19 year-old singer, Jon Ogah in some of their colourful outfits and designs, which recently have been widely covered and written about in the media, for the uniqueness.
Jon’s manager, Doc J, who travelled down to Nigeria from the States with him, is already on the phone. In our company, we also have young actor, David Nnaji of Dear Mother fame. He’s sporting a white shirt and blue jeans.
We don’t see ‘Bayo immediately. He’s busy somewhere in the building, because later that evening, award-winning author of I Do Not Come to You by Chance, Adaobi Nwaubani, will be reading from her debut novel – the reading will take place in the garden, with the audience sitting on mats and pillows. Very beautiful scenario that makes book readings more appealing and charming.
Abule – the juice bar – is where we step in.
It is explicitly designed and decorated. There are books stacked on the cases that border the entrance as you step in. Someone is using the wi-fi and also eating. He’s Peter Kayode Bello, our photographer, sporting a Bermuda short and a purple top; his beard carved around his chubby face, so you know he’s an artist. He’s been patiently waiting for us to arrive. “I’ve been waiting,” he tells me when we shake hands. “I’m sorry,” I say and quickly go down on my knees. “No vex abeg. We been go Surulere for one interview like dat. No vex abeg.” He smiles and ‘forgives us.’ Others sit down, and I start looking for ‘Bayo. While we do that, we realize the bar attendants are already chatting up with Jon. They know him. You would ask now, ‘Who doesn’t?’ They are excited as he is too. It is then that ‘Bayo walks in, clad in a tight-jean, and exquisitely made leather slippers; a striped shirt and wearing a Bohemian hat that brings out his fashionable geeky look. But his beard is coming up fine. He looks more mature than your average 20 year-old.
We all shake hands and I try to introduce him to the others.
Standing to his right and in the middle of the tables in the bar, ‘Bayo uses his tape to measure up Jon: waist, height, blah blah blah.
Onyx & Pearls is a blistering debut joyride. It’s a young label and they are trying their best in a very competitive market, with electrifying designers shouldering themselves and seeking the attention of the media hyperactively.
After measurement, they get to the hanger to check the jackets and shorts. Jon is impressed with the designs and can’t wait to get into them. This excitement makes things very fast and easy; as he recounts how he has always wanted to go into modeling. “But I’m big and short,” he says, smiling. “No, you are fat and look like a midget,” I tell him. He feels a tad bad. Now he tells us how he’s tried working out in gyms in the States. Things don’t come that way, sir. He realized that the more he gymed, the bigger he started getting. And he stopped. Even before his amazing concert opening for the Head of State at Celebrity Theater in Arizona, he needed to exercise a lot, so he couldn’t get easily exhausted on stage. Here he is, trying to get into some jackets that were made with different measurements.
They fit him.
Peter, our calm photographer, who says he has only read one book, Angels & Demons by Dan Brown takes him to the locations where they start shooting. I’m heavily angered by the fact that Peter finds it courageous to tell me he’s read one book. “I’m not into reading books,” he boasts. “Photography is my book.” Does he think it’s noticeable? Jokingly, ‘Bayo says, “Of course, it is noticeable that you don’t read.” And we burst into laughter.
Peter seems like a perfectionist. He wants to get the right shot. He wants the best colour. He wants the best spot, the best location and the best pose. And this is why he keeps tying his camera round his neck.
While the shoot is going on, I sit with ‘Bayo on one of the couches and talk about his vision as a designer. What makes him different from other designers? “What we do is this,” he begins, “we learn from older designers and what is going round the world and innovate them. We tend to be original, but it is not like what we are doing today is not in the market already. But depends on how we approach that style. It is very important.” He sounds great: tight and certainly knows what he’s doing. He hopes to achieve an international feat. He hopes to be in the limelight in the next two years. It is a journey that has just begun, but he is focused and is infectiously proud of what has happened so far.
It has been a tough journey for him. He works here – at Lifehouse and feels exhausted. But he says he loves his job. Doesn’t he feel challenged? “Of course,” he says. “It is never easy. We face a lot of challenges as young designers.” Their stocks are there for orders. It is their vision that people will focus on young designers and see what they have.
Just like 21 year-old designer, Okeke Hilary Chukwuka, whom I’ve described as the ‘LaQuan Smith of Nigeria’, Onyx & Pearls’ challenges could be channeled to getting the quality materials to stitch and make their designs. Good thing is that the menswears are more appealing and more colourful. And how come most designers love living in France and Italy? “Milan and Paris,” ‘Bayo bursts into hysterical laughter. “Those are cities of style and fashion.” Yes, Italian men are fashionable, even while in the kitchens.
As soon as we finish, I spend time with Adaobi Nwaubani, who is sitting in a dark layered part of Lifehouse, with two beautiful tall women. We talk about her recent trips to India, where she was invited by the Commonwealth Foundation. She has become a popular figure in India at the moment. She has travelled widely, based on the success of her first book.
Then it’s off to O’Jez in Surulere.
Jon wants to have Chinese dinner. Doc J wants to have ‘some good catfish.’
And then the live band entertains, the lead singer ‘humming’ Bob Marley and Lucky Dube, gushing his own ‘lyrics’, which are very meaningless. Infact, they are gibberish, because we don’t understand what he’s saying. He keeps smiling at me and calling me Rastafarian and then when I ask him to dedicate a Celine Dion track to me, he ignores me and goes back to the Bob Marley he could ‘hum’ without anyone understanding what he says.
author, The Abyssinian Boy (DADA Books, 2009)