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Exclusive: Steve French, a Ghanaian designer and Gucci Fellow that also designs clothes for Naomi Campbell

Image: Supplied
Image: Supplied

Do you remember the Essence Magazine’s 50th anniversary edition that Naomi Campbell shot in her home using her iPhone? Ms Campbell did her own hair, make-up and styling for the shoot in her New York apartment while in isolation. And while the magazine publishing industry was impressed with the innovative move—we were equally impressed that one of the garments she wore for the spread was created by a young African designer. And naturally, we had to track down the designer behind that striking red and yellow Ankara dress.

Steve French Oduro is a Ghanaian fashion designer, illustrator, and stylist. His eponymous fashion label is a contemporary brand that is all about ‘honouring traditions to create new artistic expressions.’ His designs are bold, quirky and simply elegant. And in classic Kenyan comedian Elsa Majimbo style; ‘it’s not by mistake’— that he won the coveted GUCCI Fellowship in 2019— ‘it’s not.’

The young fashion prodigy tells us more about his creative process, his GUCCI Design Fellowship experience, the Ghanaian fashion scene, a South African designer he would love to collaborate with, and much more.

Steve French Oduro

What is the first thing you do when you wake up — is there a routine that has helped you manage as a creative (with all that is happening in the world right now)?

Everything happening right now is overwhelming and very draining, but I try to stay in a positive space. I had a routine before the pandemic but now so many things have changed and although it’s affected my routine slightly, it’s still pretty much the same.

I always start my day with a glass of water or tea, and then I do some meditation/prayer.

I love to journal my journey and thoughts so when I do have time, I do that also. One of my favourite things to do is organize my space, I find it’s extremely satisfying and therapeutic when my home is clean.

When I’m settled, I go and give some love to my dogs and plants in my garden; that’s where I stay for most of the day, either sketching or just watching movies or catching up with family and friends.

What do you miss most about life BC (Before corona)?

Simplicity of human life and human connection.

The one thing you would like to see not go back to ‘normal’ post-covid19?

There are soo many lessons to be learnt from this period but the one thing I would like to see not go back to ‘normal’ post-covid19, is how as a human race we’ve become more compassionate to ourselves and to one another. It’s my hope that we will stay in this compassionate state.

The fashion industry is forced to find new ways to remain ‘relevant’, how are you adapting?

The great thing about fashion is that it’s constantly evolving. Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty during this period, and it’s a struggle to remain creative, it’s also an opportunity to dig and find ways to adapt to the times were in.

I’m challenging myself to find ways to reinvent my brand to fit into this new normal; and this includes how we produce, presentation and even market.

I also understand that beyond the industry, several people are equally struggling so I’m having to consider that in the designs I make.

Tell us about your experience with the GUCCI Design Fellowship program and what have you learned from it?

Being selected for this fellowship, especially at this point in my career is a feeling I’m still getting used to.

I’ve been exposed to so much and so many people already through this selection, and everyday I’m learning something new not just about my brand, but about myself.

But I think the most important thing I’ve learnt so far is the diversity of fashion, especially through all the other people that have been selected from different countries around the world.

I believe you have a deep love for cartoons, how has that influenced your work?

Yes, I love cartoons!!! Cartoons played a major role in my childhood and even my adult life and has influenced my work in many ways. I love the innocence and simplicity they convey and just how happy they always are and make people feel.

Life is so much simpler in the world of cartoons, and that’s how I like my designs to make people feel.

STEVE FRENCH as a brand is simple, straight to the point and we aspire to make our clients feel confident, safe and trust the world they’re in; even if it’s a dress that makes them feel this way.

Which designers, illustrators or content has inspired you over the past few months?

I think over the past few months, I’ve been inspired by a lot of things around me, a lot of inspiration can come from the peace and quiet that surrounds me, and it’s making me pay attention to things I otherwise wouldn’t notice.

YouTube vlogs have helped—watching people live their lives and do the simplest things can be so intriguing and inspiring. One of my favourite channels is Naomi Campbell’s “BEING NAOMI”. There’s so much I’m learning about her life and journey through fashion and beyond, it’s been very inspiring to see her beyond the super model that we see.

Steve French with Naomi Campbell

How did you meet Naomi Campbell and get to be referred as one of ‘one of her babies’?

I met Naomi Campbell after I returned from Italy for the Gucci Design fellowship here in Accra, Ghana. She paid a visit to the five finalists from Ghana for the program. She came and looked at my presentation for the fellowship program, fell in love with my work and even ordered some pieces immediately.

Our connection was so instant, and it’s all still surreal to me. She’s assumed the role of an adopted mother and gives advice and looks out for me.

I still remember almost falling off my couch when she called me for the first time. There are days when she reaches out and I have to take a deep breathe before responding, because I can’t believe it.

I LOVE that someone like Naomi Campbell and someone with a curvier figure such as gorgeous and fellow Ghanaian actress Lydia Forson, can wear you designs. Who do you have in mind when creating your designs—what story are you telling about the women who wear your garments?

When I design, I always have in mind who the STEVE FRENCH woman is. The Steve French woman is the new African woman unafraid to live in her truth. She’s bold, fierce, passionate and unapologetic.

I love strong women, and when designing for them I want their strength to show through in what they wear.

Tell us a bit the Ghanaian fashion scene.

The Ghanaian fashion scene is a vibrant industry and growing rapidly with lots of interesting young creative fashion designers.

Designers are becoming more conscious about the environment, working conditions, sustainable production, and so many other ethics surrounding fashion.

There’s been an emergence of local designers using a lot of recycled materials to create clothes, shoes and bags.

And there are also established designers encouraging ethical fashions and inspiring others to do same such as Sama Fletcher, Daniks Peters, Alexandra Tomiyama, Midekor, Otteng, Bôhten, BIIO, and Jermaine Bleu.

Is there a South African or any other designer/creative from the continent you would love to work with?

I love Rich Mnisi and I would love to do a collaboration with at some point, that would be amazing!

The one place you’d like to visit when there is a vaccine?

I’ve always wanted to visit Bali.

Advice or any words of wisdom for young African designers that are looking to break into the fashion industry?

Stay true to your authentic self, trust your journey and stay focused. Don’t let the attention derail you, keeping honing your craft but most importantly, don’t stop dreaming because it’s what keeps us going. Once you stop dreaming, everything comes to an end.

STEVE FRENCH designs can be ordered via @stevefrenchofficial_ on Instagram.

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