Sometimes, a designer and muse collaborate to craft an outfit or collection. In other instances, the designer might be inspired by the attributes and personality of a particular celebrity. An iconic case in point is the Givenchy-Audrey Hepburn partnership, which began in 1953 and led to one of cinema’s most iconic fashion moments- the Little Black Dress Audrey Hepburn wore in the opening scene of the 1961 classic, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
We’ve seen these dynamics unfold over the years with pairs like Jackie Kennedy & Oleg Cassini, Karl Lagerfeld & Vanessa Paradis, Jean Paul Gaultier & Madonna, Bob Mackie & Cher, and Gianni & Donatella Versace. So, when we brainstormed the fashion issue, I proposed “The Designer, The Model, The Muse” theme to explore the fashion industry’s essential elements better.
Imagine a designer’s creative genius giving birth to stunning pieces. Before we rush to shop, we thirst for visuals, and that’s where the model steps in. She brings the designs to life, captivating us. But we also desire real-life context, and that’s where the muse shines. A familiar figure, she showcases these pieces at events and on social media, convincing us they belong in our wardrobes. Mission accomplished!
Ejiro’s ‘calm and ready’ demeanour reminded me of the first time I heard her speak in 2017 at TheMod17. The “The Art & Business of Styling” workshop was hosted by style consultant Damilola Oke (Madame Modish). Ejiro openly said the importance of collaboration in the fashion industry, urging us- stylists- to embrace the notion more as it was the key to building a successful fashion career. I remember her jokingly saying her doors were always open, but we must also be respectful. Watching her give the same direct look while ensuring Beverly and Rebecca were okay pleased me. I am a fan of people who remain steady in their beliefs and actions.
Ejiro Amos-Tafiri, a successful fashion designer, attributes her love for fashion to her grandmother’s tailoring skills. Over the past thirteen years, she has gained recognition for her creative use of indigenous and sustainable fabrics in her eclectic designs. She emphasises the importance of collaboration in the fashion industry, a message she has consistently promoted since speaking at that 2017 workshop. Ejiro’s belief in the significance of organic relationships underscores her view that the collaboration between the designer, model, and muse is essential for fostering innovation in the fashion industry.
“For a designer, ideas often incubate in your mind or within your creative team, and their real-world application can be uncertain. The model, often the first point of contact for the customer (and the muse), offers a window into how the person wearing the garment will experience it.”- Ejiro Amos-Tafiri
Ejiro is more than a designer who makes clothes. Her dedication and consistency to building a sophisticated and unique brand, considered a woman’s best friend, has earned her accolades and awards from 2010 until now. “I love to tell stories, and that’s what my pieces do; there’s always a story there”. Ejiro has a remarkable knack for narrating captivating tales through her models and muses in each collection. Her look-books are meticulously crafted, and to bring her creative vision to life, her models and muses need to align with her brand’s essence. They breathe life into her creations, reassuring her that she’s on the right path in conveying her message effectively.
“The creative ecosystem fleshes it out fully, and by the time everyone comes together, it makes it full.”- Ejiro
Speaking of captivating transformations, have you ever watched actors shift into various characters on screen and then scrolled through their social media for a ‘compare and contrast’ session? The first time I saw Beverly Naya on screen, I felt a deep connection. I immediately visited her Instagram and was captivated by her authentic personality shining through her content. In 2014, during my National Youth Service Corps year, I met Beverly while she was directing a Dark and Lovely shoot celebrating our natural skin tones. Fast forward nearly a decade, and she remains as passionate as ever.
“It’s a synergy that truly thrives, contributing to the industry’s international recognition.” – Beverly
With a 15-year career, Beverly Naya has seamlessly merged her love for fashion and beauty. Her impeccable style makes her a standout presence at industry events, and her versatility as a muse is no surprise to anyone. As she puts it,
“It’s enjoyable when we get to work with designers for films because that’s when you get to become the character. You get to wear outfits that might not be your usual style when bringing a character to life.”- Beverly
Beverly highlights the significance of the designer-muse relationship in the fashion industry’s growth. Experimenting with different styles for diverse characters empowers her because she perfectly embodies various designers’ creations, making the characters come to life. Beyond her acting prowess, Beverly takes delight in donning multiple outfits, especially when collaborating with designers for films, as it allows her to truly step into her characters and explore unique styles that might not be part of her usual wardrobe.
Known for her descriptors, such as ‘sexy, stylish, and audacious,’ the last term pays tribute to her courage in venturing deep into the beauty industry’s challenges with her Netflix documentary, “SKIN.” She exudes the same passion, even when discussing her earlier days as a fashion enthusiast seeking collaborations with designers. Her journey wasn’t without hurdles, as she recalls facing numerous rejections, hearing phrases like ‘we don’t know her’ or ‘there’s no appeal.’ These setbacks deeply affected her, leaving her with a bruised ego and a sense of vulnerability, which she reflects on with a soft yet resolute voice.
The rejections she faced only fueled Beverly’s vision to collaborate with brands that aligned more closely with her creative aspirations. She focused on shaping her image as a stylish actor, zeroing in on select designers who shared her belief. Her first collaboration was with Gozel Green after which she went on to work with Iconic Invanity and also wore Ejiro Amos-Tafiri at some point in the early days too. Beverly gradually transformed into a beloved muse for these brands as her stunning event outfits began to make waves online.
On the other hand, Rebecca Fabunmi boasts a remarkable six-year career in the fashion modelling industry. Her longevity in the field left me pleasantly surprised; it feels as though her distinctive face has been a constant presence for many years. As the primary model for internationally renowned designer Lisa Folawiyo, Rebecca’s journey in the fashion world has been notably seamless. Her career has been adorned with remarkable achievements, including features in esteemed publications like British Vogue, Ebony Magazine, Elle, and Glamour. Additionally, she’s been the prominent face of distinguished Nigerian brands globally, such as Orange Culture, Fruche, and many others. She eagerly reflects on her relationship with designers as the initial step on an incredible journey to showcasing their artistic creations.
“It’s truly a privilege for me to witness the essence of their brand and how they intend to express it through their clothing when it’s on me. I get to immerse myself in their designs and understand the creative process from the outset.” – Rebecca.
While the global modelling industry has made considerable progress towards inclusivity and diversity, biases against plus-size models persist, especially in Nigeria. Rebecca, who traditionally embodies the ‘ideal’ model size, shared a candid account of facing rejection due to a minor weight gain. Her experience is a poignant reminder that even minor deviations from the norm can impact one’s career. It raises thought-provoking questions about the industry’s genuine commitment to the inclusivity and diversity it promotes, especially in light of the burgeoning plus-size market projected to reach $700 billion by 2027.
The conversation takes a deeper turn as all three women shift their focus, engrossed in their own discussion. Beverly turns to Rebecca, her voice carrying a genuine curiosity, and asks how those rejections truly felt in those moments. In a measured, reflective tone, Rebecca begins to share her experience. “I don’t really think about it because I believe that whatever comes for me is for me.” True to her words, Rebecca quickly moves on from this challenge to highlight one of her favourite parts of being a fashion model.
“It expands my style palette and knowledge of fashion and enlightens me on how I want to be seen aside from being a model. It really gives me options and range.”- Rebecca
From the designer’s perspective, challenges inevitably crop up when nurturing relationships in the fashion industry. Creative individuals can be quite protective of their work, particularly when facing tight deadlines and the practicalities of bringing their visions to life. Ejiro, drawing from her own experiences, acknowledges the strain that can arise during production or shows but emphasises that it’s usually short-lived if all parties handle the pressure gracefully.
Ejiro further points out that challenges can emerge during fashion week, particularly for models transitioning between outfits. She notes that while working with muses, sometimes the characters they portray can seep into their real lives and influence their interactions with others. Ejiro believes that even the most accomplished creatives may require additional time to maintain an unattainable persona, which can, in turn, strain their relationships with models and muses.
Beverly adds her perspective, affirming this sentiment.
“Sometimes when you collaborate, you have ideas of what you want to look like, and when it doesn’t turn out that way, you don’t know how to properly articulate that without offending the designer”. – Beverly
Now that she has built a bankable reputation as a fashion paragon, she can collaborate with all her choice designers while experimenting with her style.
Discussing her personal style, Beverly delves into her ongoing movie project. She notes that her character has piqued her interest in a manner different from what she is used to. “She’s a boss lady with a very structured wardrobe, whereas my own wardrobe tends to be much more playful and alluring. Being part of this project requires me to don various suits from different designers, and I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for them. It’s been eye-opening because it’s broadened my fashion horizons. I now find myself saying, ‘Oh my God, I love suits.’”
Like Beverly’s expanding fashion horizons, the synergy between the designer, model, and muse plays a pivotal role in pushing the fashion and creativity boundaries within the industry. Starting with the steps taken by the present generation to keep the sector moving forward, these women reflect on how this collaborative spirit is poised to ignite future generations of designers, models, and muses. Despite her limited encounters with such biases, Rebecca believes the upcoming generation will thrive in a more inclusive fashion industry.
“In the past, there were restrictions in model statistics from body size to your height. But the industry is more diverse and inclusive right now, I love that”.- Rebecca
The Nigerian fashion industry has witnessed astounding growth in the last 10 years. The international acclaim and recognition our designers continuously receive over the years have led to exposure to foreign markets. This cross-border display consistently births valuable collaborations between our talented creatives and designers worldwide. Some recent attestations to this are the Victoria Secret World Tour featuring five Nigerian creatives and the Alara Lagos collaboration with The Brooklyn Museum.
Beverly is awed by this growth and attributes considerable importance to the strategic collaborations between the designer, muse, and model.
“I just think it’s absolutely incredible. It’s something we’re doing really well and should keep capitalising.. To keep growing and having that global appeal”. – Beverly
This conversation has stirred something profound. Ejiro’s responses now brim with passion, and she firmly believes that the future hinges on the education we impart. “I think the more we engage in these conversations, the more people become enlightened, and their perspectives expand,” she asserts. Education holds a special place in Ejiro’s heart, a point you’ll discover more about as our cover story unfolds. In a world inundated with information, she advocates for a more personalised delivery of knowledge, especially within the fashion industry. “What I preach all the time is more information, more education. We can never get enough of that”.
“Our gift to future generations is providing them with information that guides them on their journey, so they face it with less anxiety and trepidation, don’t give up, and let time work its magic” – Ejiro.
The women collectively concur that conversations like the one we’re engaged in hold power to influence future generations in multifaceted ways. Rebecca underlines that they serve as mini examples, demonstrating that their accomplishments are within reach. Beverly enthusiastically chimes in, declaring, “They won’t have to navigate the same obstacles we did,” and Rebecca aptly concludes with a timeless sentiment,
“We’ve paved the way for the next generation.”
Indeed, this has been a unique learning experience for everyone present, and we close out with Ejiro’s thoughts on how they envision the fashion industry to grow. She reckons this powerful connection between the designer, muse and model will continue to exist, just as it always has before her and during her growing years while working with top designer Tiffany Amber Lanre Da Silva. “There is no designer without the muse and literally no fashion brand without the model, so this would be us bringing it more to the fore. People are more aware but let’s be more intentional so it would facilitate growth.”
Fostering growth within the fashion industry is a paramount objective for us, underscoring the significance of highlighting the intricate interplay among these three pivotal perspectives. Mother Teresa aptly stated, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together, we can do great things.” This quote encapsulates the essence of collaboration and synergy that underpins the thriving fashion world.
In the days to come, we embark on a profound exploration of the individual profiles of these remarkable women. Through their narratives, we delve into the tapestry of their careers, tracing the paths they’ve traversed, the hurdles they’ve surmounted, and the milestones they’ve achieved in the dynamic landscape of the creative industry. Their stories offer a rich tapestry of inspiration, resilience, and the unwavering pursuit of their passions.
Throughout this journey, we unearth the harmonious threads that weave together their distinctive experiences, revealing the intricate relationships vital to excelling in their respective domains. These shared threads speak to the everyday challenges they’ve confronted, the growth they’ve nurtured, and the collective wisdom they’ve amassed. Through these insights, we glean a deeper appreciation for the industry’s ever-evolving nature and the enduring spirit of creativity and collaboration that fuels it.