The Root Interview: Designer Duro Olowu Defines Afro-Chic

The Nigerian-British designer talks to The Root about why he gave up law for fashion, his "Afro-chic" aesthetic and why he believes in love at first sight.

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Duro Olowu grabbed attention in Europe a few years ago as the London-based designer of the "it" dress featured in American Vogue. In 2005 he was named Best New Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council -- and he had never had a runway show.

Since then, both his collection and his business have grown. This year, during New York Fashion Week, he showed the line in the U.S. for the first time. Since 2008, when he married Thelma Golden, the fashionable and sociable director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, he has divided his time between New York and London.

While he was in New York, The Root talked to him about life before the limelight and now that he's in it.

The Root: How did you get into fashion? You are a trained lawyer, correct?

Duro Olowu: My design experience is very interesting. As a child, I used to sketch all the time. I was always interested in art. Recently my dad gave me a basket full of sketches I did when I was kid. However, I'm 44, and for my generation, when you studied, you studied to be a lawyer, a doctor. You didn't go to school to study to be a designer. My parents were very supportive of my talents and all of that, but for me, I never thought to say, "I want to study design." It didn't occur to me.

TR: Also, I would think the culture, too, would not encourage that?

DO: Right. I'm Nigerian. My dad is a barrister from Nigeria. My mother is Jamaican. My parents met in England in the early '50s.

TR: How did you become a lawyer?

DO: I went to school in Nigeria until I was 15; then I was sent to boarding school in England, and then to law school. But even then, all my money went to books and magazines about fashion and art. I think that's some of the reason my work is the way it is. I didn't have that formal fashion training from an early age. I didn't have in my head the way it should be. That was very liberating.

After university, I did Nigerian National Service, which is for one year, and then I went back to England and to Paris. I practiced law in Nigeria and England for a while before I [went into fashion].