Emmy Collins, Nigerian-born British bespoke tailor, talks about his designs, homosexuality and the fashion industry
At age 11, Emmy Collins would sneak out of hostel in Government College, Umuahia, Abia State. His destination, usually, the Ariaria market in Aba. He had an accomplice–Chinedu Nwaubani, his friend and classmate. The purpose of such trips was to buy fabrics.
Even at that young age, he had developed a sartorial taste for which he stood out in school. But he did not stay long in Umuahia before his parents relocated to Lagos. To Emmy’s delight, their next home was a shouting distance from Pepple Street in Ikeja, where Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had his Afrika Shrine. Emmy had been fascinated by Fela’s quirky style of dressing and longed to meet the musician. He started sneaking out to the Shrine, not to listen to Afrobeat but to see Fela’s smart apparels, which were often embellished with Afro-themed embroidery.
“Sometimes, I shudder to think of how my late mum would have felt if she had known I was sneaking out of school at that young age just to source for unique clothes and designs,” said Emmy.
For Emmy and his peers, there were plenty of parties to attend in Lagos at that time, and they always wanted to look fairly stylish at those. Since he loved to wear original pieces, Emmy decided to start creating them as well. He would sketch his designs, which he gave to a neighbourhood tailor to sew. From there, his passion for fashion was ignited. This, he did until the early 90s, when he left for Europe. His first station was Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
While in Amsterdam, his designing practice was stalled for a while. But when he realised that his favourite city did not nurture his fashion ambitions, Emmy moved to New York, where he rebooted the practice and tested their impact of his creations by mixing in with the city’s glitterati, which included the likes of legendary singer and songwriter, Prince, who complimented him on one of his outfits.
But after the 11 September 2001 attacks and his narrow escape from the scene of the attacks, the designer returned to Europe. This time, he settled for London.
With the help of a mentor, David Jones, he underwent some designing and fashion business management courses, after which he established his label called Emmy Kathy-Collins. The name later changed to Emmy Collins London.
With his unadulterated style, Emmy’s designs stand out. His latest creations include signature retro wide-lapel jackets and drainpipe trousers reminiscent of styles that epitomised the spirit of 1950s’ Rock and Roll. In addition to the fit of his jackets, much attention is paid to smaller, yet ever so distinguishing details like polka dots, linings and the use of 100 percent colourful pure satin trims.
His recent venture into fashion accessories resulted in items like skinny silk print ties and chunky bow ties that come in an array of black, plaid and neon colours. “My designs are a fusion of elegance and quirkiness. They are both fresh and daring, bordering on the debonair, but decidedly cutting edge,” Emmy said.
Testimony to Emmy’s claims came in November 2010 when he opened his flagship store on Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, London, where many celebrity clients came down to check designs. In attendance were fashion legend, Janice Dickinson; X-Factor stars Brian Friedman and Belle Ami; Hofit Golan; David Van Day; Sue Moxley and Lizzie Cundy among others.
In a conservative society like Britain and the competitive nature of its fashion industry, Emmy said he has been able to build his client base across racial boundaries simply by being unique. “At the risk of sounding arrogant, I dare say that both in United Kingdom and beyond, I have carved a niche for myself and my clients appreciate me because of the timeless pieces I offer them,” said Emmy who claimed colour is no longer a barrier to success in the UK.
“As my mentor, Jones, would normally say: ‘Education you acquired, but talent you are born with’. Over the years, I have acquired education and experience to enhance my career, but I was born with the talent. I have been an individual with lots of imagination and innovative ideas hence the originality in my designs. My watchwords are originality, originality and originality. It is one word to you. But to me, it is three. This has made the colour of my skin inconsequential to my clients,” Emmy told TheNEWS.
Similarly, people’s sexuality is of no consequence to Emmy. He does not understand the fuss over homosexuality on the global fashion scene. “I would say that people’s sexuality is their business as far as I am concerned. I don’t care if heterosexuals or gay people rule the industry. As a heterosexual, who work with gay people, all I ask is to be treated with respect. I don’t understand why people are so hypocritical. Why buy clothes designed by gays if you are offended by their sexuality?” he asked.
On the Nigerian fashion industry, he believes some positive strides have been made over the years, but some have been made in the wrong direction, especially in the area of runways. “It is important for fashion show organisers and designers to understand the essence of fashion shows and what it should offer designers. A show should be an opportunity for a designer to create awareness and secure new clients. You don’t organise shows just because there is availability of sponsorship or else it will ended up a waste of emotion and resources,” said Emmy.
He added that too much emphasis has been placed on runway razzmatazz in Nigeria than the quality of garments being showcased. “I will advise show organisers to get selected home-based buyers/retailers involved, as some of these local stores sell a lot of products, but unfortunately they are often ignored so they never buy Nigeria. However, to persuade them to buy Nigeria, you have to offer quality because you wouldn’t expect people to buy your products on sentiments,” he added.
Emmy is hoping to nurture passionate upcoming designers to be different in approach to their craft and the business side of it. This he started with a free fashion workshop held in Lagos last December. “I have seen some fantastic designs from some of these young designers. Sadly, the quality of their tailoring lets them down. This is an opportunity for me to explain to them the importance of quality tailoring because any garment that is not tailored properly becomes rubbish, irrespective of how good the design might be,” he warned.
Emmy knows how slippery the Nigerian terrain is. Six years ago, he spent lavishly to open a store in Ikoyi, Lagos. Three years into the business, he was forced to shut down the store and scoot out of the country.
“I found myself in a knotty situation where I had to choose between Lagos and London, but I wasn’t yet ready to settle in Lagos. It became more painful, as I couldn’t find an individual here who shares my vision and passion enough to manage the showroom,” Emmy said disappointingly. But in spite of that experience, he said Nigeria will remain an important part of his business.
So where does Emmy see his fashion brand in 10 years? “Basically, I see Emmy Collins as a successful brand that will demonstrate that you can keep your designs edgy and still be successful just as Vivienne Westwood has demonstrated already. Having an Emmy Collins on Sloane Street, London or the 55th Street in New York wouldn’t be a bad idea either,” he summed.
Source: PM News
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