Earlier this year, Ghanaian-born luxury menswear designer Afriyie Poku, debuted his 2013 Oberima Afriyie collection at Charleston Fashion Week and walked away with the coveted Emerging Designer prize. We got a chance to interview the Atlanta-based designer to discuss his inspirations and the future of the label.
How would you describe the Oberima Afriyie brand? What type of man wears Oberima Afriyie?
Oberima Afriyie contemporizes attires from centuries past through cut, construction, and attention to fine detail. Synonymously, creating pieces that are edgy, sexy, masculine, and versatile. The O.A brand approaches every design by creating a character that is defined by Poku’s philosophy of “the Gentleman.” His philosophy rests upon the belief that there is a Gentleman in all of us. That Gentleman knows who they are and embraces it. For within the house of Oberima Afriyie, there is no distinction between the man in the business suit and the man in the biker jacket. This is because every individual depicts different qualities that attribute to the idea of “the Gentleman.” Here, all characters are welcome.
(Oberima Afriyie Manifesto above)
I design for gentlemen of the world. A man who lives by a certain ethos a man of awareness a worldly man whose style permeates across oceans, beyond mountains, and through boundaries.
You have a very unique style. Would you say you are the muse for your creations?
Yes. Everything I design is something that I would wear. When I have a concept in mind I embody myself in that creation.
All of you clothes are impeccably designed with excellent tailoring. Where do you find inspiration for each collection? Would you say that your surroundings have any influence on aspects of your designs?
Over the past year, I’ve been contemplating on a formula for my design aesthetic. I came up with my own, as I would like to call it, my “artist DNA.” This formula contains four elements.
The first element is my heritage. I was raised in Ghana, West Africa by my grandmother. During that time I was surrounded by arts and crafts at an early age. Every time I step away and look at my finished designs I’ve caught myself in remembrance of my childhood past, Some of the techniques I’ve used to accomplish my aesthetic I draw from my experiences with arts and crafts as a child. In West African culture the use of color is omnipresent. I wanted to take the omnipresence of color and harness it’s prevalence. I find the use of color most effective when it is concealed in the garment, where within the flow of the garment the color is revealed, momentarily.
The second element revolves around my growth from youth to adulthood that occurred in United States. I have an affinity for old Hollywood and I’ve been greatly influenced by old American cinema. If you view Hollywood’s iconic hero’s from Humphrey Bogart to James Dean, these are American iconic gentleman that I associate the world “gentleman” with. So every time I design I have these individuals in mind. I believe that if I’m designing for an American gentleman I am designing for the gentleman of the world.
The third considers my take on European influence. In my view you cannot be a true menswear label without a solid European aesthetic that comprises fabric, cut, and style.
The fourth and final component is my inspiration that I described earlier. It is the only element that distinguishes one collection from another. The first three elements will always permeate through any collection that I develop. Our first official collection and brand debut at CFW 2014 will contain all four elements.
You studied for a degree in Electrical Engineering. What made you transition from Electrical Engineering to Fashion Design?
I did not complete the degree program. I was taking the prerequisites for it but did not fully indulge myself into the program. Electrical engineering was not a choice I personally made to pursue. It was bestowed upon me. It made sense if I was to find any semblance of happiness in this world it was to follow my heart.
Are there any celebrities that you would love to see wearing your clothes?
I rather have a fan as opposed to a celebrity wear my designs. If that fan happens to be a celebrity who has a sense of appreciation for my craft and my vision, then I can embrace them.
Which designers, (if any) inspire you?
The truth is there have been many designers who have inspired me on this journey. Ozwald Boateng who opened my eyes to this industry, Ralph Lauren because of the depth of his brand, and finally Coco Chanel who revolutionized womenswear to the point that it tipped the scale to a female dominated industry since that time.
The label name is Oberima Afriyie. Oberima meaning Gentleman. Can we expect a womenswear line in the future?
Menswear is where my passion has always been. As a menswear designer I have a vision that is distinct from what is out there. Due to that, I feel that I have been embraced beyond my expectation. I am grateful for that. I haven’t experienced any sense of difficulty as I embarked on this journey within the industry. Both design competitions I’ve been fortunate to participate in, I’ve been the only menswear designer. It’s really encouraging. At this moment I haven’t had any specific inspiration that gravitates toward womenswear. From a brand and artist’s perspective those waters have not been chartered, yet.
You recently won the Peoples choice and emerging designer award at Charleston Fashion Week earlier this year? How was that experience?
There has been a tremendous amount of development since CFW 2013 and it has all happened organically. We returned to Atlanta to shoot the lookbook for the exhibition collection shown at CFW 2013. I use we to indicate two instrumental figures that have been alongside me from the very beginning, Tesh Gandhi and Faisal Mohammed. After the lookbook shoot we had our “aha” moment. What we saw in our hands was the beginning of an empire. Through a thorough and extensive process of self-identity, we created a vision for our brand. Over the last eight months the focus has been refining that vision and building this label brick by brick to create a sound foundation, crucial to any further evolvement. That being said, words can not express how excited we are to debut the first official collection of Oberima Afriyie and our brand as a whole at CFW 2014. Personally, the experience at CFW last year will resonate with me for life. One thing for sure, winning Charleston Fashion Week reaffirmed my conviction that I was put on Earth to do this. It built my level of confidence so much so that I feel that I am ready to present a brand.
How are your family finding your success?
After recent events and acknowledgements, the support from my family is evident now more than ever.
What’s Next For the Oberima Afriyie brand. What can we expect to see in years to come?
Ha, this question is in need of a conversation. I could write a novel by the time I’ve answered it completely. What I can provide you is our goal for the next year. Once we debut the brand at CFW 2014 our eyes are set on the Menswear Swarovski Designer and CFDA/VOGUE Fashion Fund, among others. Aside from monetary incentives, these funds provide something intangible and that is the opportunity to receive mentorship from the most respected individuals in the industry. Within that given environment the vision of our brand will have the ammunition it requires to unfold.
To learn more Oberima Afriyie, view the following links:
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