Nigerian-born Ngozi Ochonogor markets her striking designs in London and Japan. She will show her new collection on Thursday evening at 6:30 as part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa.
How did you wind up working in Japan? I started selling clothes at the Portobello Market in London with my first brand GOZI, while still at fashion school. A Japanese stylist took a liking to my work – she organized shoots for magazines using my clothes and I got a few clients in Japan. Soon after that an Italian designer who loved my work, asked me to join him in an exhibition during London Fashion Week. I was selling well at the market,and in a couple of boutiques in London and Paris. It was a whirlwind journey filled with brilliant moments but which required hard work. Eventually, I moved to Japan and started U.Mi-1. Oddly, it felt easier, even though I was miles away from home and couldn’t speak the language.
What is the fashion scene like in London and Japan? Vibrant. Londoners set the fashion pace round the world. They are the innovators, so the look is always raw. The Japanese add a spin on everything and perfect the look. The Japanese are very stylish but I find sometimes that there is a lack of individuality. The ones who stand out are very quirky.
Tell me about your latest collection.The latest U.Mi-1 collection is all about shirts, so we use predominantly cottons. We use light wools as well for trousers. The collection is based on Mondrian and Nicholson in Parallel. I bought a postcard from this exhibition at the Courtauld gallery in London, which struck a chord. I am a fan of the cubism movement. Both artists were initially influenced by cubism but their work evolved beyond it. U.Mi-1 is on the same path. As the brand has progressed, we have embraced simpler forms but smaintained our strengths. We have retained our signature use of contrasting colours. The shirts come in various shades of blue, and then you get a splash of red, orange and white, which really makes the blue pop.
After our last collection, we have been experimenting more with patterned fabrics, so this collection includes dotted fabrics and African prints. We used tape on some of the shirts to create softer lines. The tape runs along the body contours creating the illusion of a slimmer silhouette on the wearer. I feel we have managed to get the right balance of art and commercial fashion.