Duro Olowu is a Nigerian-born, British fashion designer whose work has been seen on the likes of Michelle Obama, Solange Knowles, and Iris Apfel.
He is best known for his innovative combinations of patterns and textiles that draw inspiration from his international background.
Olowu was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Nigerian father and Jamaican mother.
Of his parents, Olowu says, “they both had a strong sense of style, which I, with no doubt, relished.”
Olowu grew up in Lagos while spending summers in Geneva and London, immersing him in multiple cultures. He moved to the United Kingdom for school at the age of 16 and went on to earn a law degree at the University of Kent.
Olowu’s fashion journey began in the late ’90s when he swapped professions and started the womenswear label, “Olowu Golding”, opening up a shop in Notting Hill with his first wife, shoe designer Elaine Golding.
In 2004, Olowu launched a women’s wear label under his own name, beginning with the Spring/Summer 2005 collection. An empire-waist multi print dress from that collection, later dubbed the “Duro” became an international hit after being discovered and publicized by American Vogue editor Sally Singer and Julie Gilhart of Barneys New York, leading to it being hailed the dress of the year by both British and American Vogue.
“Being self-taught has given me the freedom of thought, and of process. I appreciate and explore things in a different way because I taught myself to think and work that way. Although I completely appreciate the design school path to fashion, I am also very aware of the fact that what one does probably stands out for the better because of this. I am very lucky that my success has allowed me to somewhat control how I work on every level: quality, aesthetic, and pace…”
In 2005, Olowu won the New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, the only designer to do so without having a catwalk show. He married Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, in 2008. In 2009 he was named the Best International Designer by the African Fashion Awards, and received one of six nominations for the Swiss Textile Federation’s coveted prize of €100,000.
Olowu has won a devoted fan in American First Lady Michelle Obama, who frequently wore his designs. “Michelle Obama was a real supporter and I felt very honoured because she wore very few non-American designers” Olowu said in an interview.
Michelle Obama also invited Olowu to decorate the White House for Christmas 2015, where he decorated the Vermeil Room with ornate trappings and teddy bears made of vintage rare fabrics.
Olowu was named in the 2019 edition of the Powerlist, ranking the 100 most influential Black Britons.
In recent years, Olowu began curating contemporary art exhibitions in galleries and museums starting with his highly praised exhibitions, “Material” (2012) and “More Material (2014) at Salon94 gallery in New York. He curated his first museum exhibition in 2016, the critically acclaimed, “Making & Unmaking” at the Camden Arts Centre in London.
In 2020 Olowu curated his second museum exhibition,”Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago”, featuring his selection of over 350 artworks from both the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago as well as other institutions and private collections in the city. This marked the first time The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago has hired a guest art curator in its fifty years of existence.
Duro Olowu also currently sits on the board of trustees of The Royal Academy of Arts.Tags: Africa, fashion, fashion designer, Nigeria