The designer’s S/S23 presentation, presented during London Fashion Week, explored both the British and African post-colonial period precolonial culture
- Who is it? Olubiyi Thomas is a Lagos-born, Glasgow-raised, London-based designer who reinvents the common space between British post-colonialism and pre-colonial African culture – a sustainably sourced textile that is both
- Why do I want it? Deconstructed and avant-garde pieces projected into a personal dimension, with reference to philosophy, history and religion
- Where can I receive it? olubiyithomas.com
Who is it? Born in Lagos and raised in Glasgow, designer based in London Olubiyi Thomas projects a curated image of her diverse upbringing through the prism of fashion and art. Drawing on his Yoruba heritage and British culture, he was able to combine his interests in philosophy, religion and history in his collections. For spring/summer 2023, Phoenix Rising, he uses multi-heretical and cross-cultural emblems, pre-colonial styles and handcrafted West African textiles that juxtapose European linen appliqué. These textiles are woven together to soften the bond between male and female silhouettes that illustrate the theory of the cycle of life and death.
Being the son of a pastor and growing up in a Pentecostal family, Thomas was instilled in Christian values from an early age. “My mother is the pastor of our church. So I think a lot of those ideas are strongly Christian,” he says. “I kind of left it out, in terms of really intense indoctrination, like organized religion. It’s not really something that interests me. But for me – the foundations, some of the pillars of kindness and gentleness, how to treat my fellow human beings – for me, those things are so fundamental. The lessons he was able to draw from his religion are evident in his work today, but are offset by the African philosophy he carefully combed through. “I think – in terms of Yoruba philosophy – there’s a slight crossover with those entrenched Christian beliefs where it’s basically about treating people the way you want to be treated,” he explains. “Treat the universe in a good way and also take care of the earth because obviously the idea is that we are all connected. So if we’re connected to the earth, to the soil, to the trees – if we’re connected to something, then you’re going to treat people the way you want to be treated.
This approach to the connection between humans and the Earth, and life and death, also appears in its sustainable development practices. His experimental use of recycled and found fabrics is a response to the current climate of today’s environment – but is not a solution. “I didn’t wake up with an enduring flag in one hand and say, ‘I’m going to change the world.’ It kind of happened naturally, and I made a real effort to incorporate those ideas into my work and just try to live by those codes of conduct,” he says.
The Central Saint Martins graduate, whose previous work ranges from a studio role at Alexander McQueen to a directing job at De Rien, really hasn’t looked back since launching his own label in 2016. “I believe in calls. I believe there are certain things you were born to do. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Why do I want it? Surprisingly, Thomas doesn’t formally reject any narrative of traditional fashion performance and presentation. He understands the functionality of a conventional catwalk, but believes that clothes only come to life when you take them off the hanger and breathe life into them through movement.
Accompanied by bespoke silhouettes with historical references that drape and layer along the raw edges, Thomas has integrated performance, music, dance and spoken word into his latest show. “That’s why I try to build these different perspectives so that we can soak in a little bit more information, maybe through words, through music, through dance.” The multifaceted performers – who wore oversized garments drenched in earth tones – not only played a crucial role in the show, but also pieced together the puzzle to build a bigger picture; the ceaseless movement and production within fashion. “The speed and pace of things is like, wow. Did anyone actually see what was happening or feel anything there? ‘Cause it happened so fast it’s like, what do you really remember?
Where can I receive it? olubiyithomas.com