Niyi agreed to do an interview with me on himself and his line of men's accessories, Post-Imperial, which you can buy from his own e-store or at Sid Mashburn. Here is our conversation.
So to get things started, how would you describe the aesthetic of your brand?
The Post-Imperial aesthetic is a colorful and vibrant ode to new forms of fashion. It carries a strong sense of optimism for the future. It always feels familiar, even when the concepts aren’t. But most importantly, it is intercontinental- from the process and origins of the products, all the way to its inclusive reassessment of cultural standards.
Because of what I am trying to achieve aesthetically, I usually have to apply unconventional ways to process my ideas. In most cases this comes with remolding certain artisanal forms. So far, one of the forms that I have successfully managed to bend is called Adire; a very rare and traditional hand-dyeing technique developed by the Yorubas in the Southwestern region of Nigeria.
Originally reserved for ceremonial purposes, it has now become more of a sacred artform due to its rarity. Its “wabi-sabi” nature comes from the natural cassava paste that acts as the resist dye on the cloth. This is important because most other dyeing techniques use wax, which gives a much cleaner look. Prior to dyeing, the artist hand paints unique motifs that carry symbolic meaning on top of the cassava and then dyes the cloth. During the design process, I usually try to incorporate some of the traditional motifs with my own original work to draft something that is much more contemporary than “old world.” This goes back to my statement about creating something familiar even when the concepts are not.
There are only a few dyers left in the country, and I work with the best ones. Our sessions are quite intense and can take hours. It can be pretty difficult trying to convince someone with 25 plus years of experience that your foolish ideas work.
Most of the fabrics I dye are sourced from mills in countries like Japan and Italy, but all our products are made America. The whole process really is a testament to this globally interconnected web that I feel Post-Imperial is about.
How did you learn about Adire and get connected to the dyers? Are those dyers all still Yorubas?
For one thing being Yoruba helps. As a kid, I attended several ceremonial Yoruba events. Anyone that was important wore Adire. Sometimes there were given as gifts to loved ones. Each fabric had some coded message within that told some sort of story or relayed some type of blessing. Adire is one of many traditional cloths that we are known for. When it comes to the arts, we are quite possibly the most ambitious group in Africa. The artist is a sacred institution in our culture and many of our indigenous artifacts can be traced back to their maker.
Nigeria is home to 500 ethnic groups, but it is no surprise that almost all Adire masters are still Yoruba. Most ethnic groups in Nigeria have their own form of textile development, and each of these cloths speak different languages and possess different meanings. Since today’s dyers are small in number, most tend to pass their skills on to their kin. Sure, sometimes you might find an apprentice from Senegal, but it is still mostly a pure Yoruba artform.
How did you come up with the name "Post-Imperial"? Taken together with your SF handle, do you think of yourself as in some sense an agent of post-imperial cooperation between Nigeria and, for lack of a better term, the Western world?
I do... but to a certain degree. While I am connected to the diaspora, I myself am only limited to my experiences and knowledge. My word is not bond and it would be silly to appoint myself as some sort of avatar. The diaspora is vast, so there are many points and angles to approach. I only want to serve as an entry point the same way Yohji Yamamoto does for Japan or Ralph Lauren does for America.
The name Post-Imperial comes from the idea of living after old regimes. I believe we are in an age where menswear is now at a democratic point in fashion. We are no longer prisoners to standards of the past. For some reason though, there is still the notion that for us to “understand” fashion, you must bait us with nostalgia.
I think many people don't feel confident about their own stylistic sense and fall back on historical standards as a crutch. But unlike most SF members, you also have formal training in fashion. What did that entail, and how has it influenced you? How is the culture surrounding that community different than the culture of SF or other online congregations of (mostly) amateur enthusiasts?
I studied fashion design at Parsons in New York. I focused mostly on womenswear but still had interest in menswear so I interned at a few places like Yigal Azrouël and Patrik Ervell. After school I worked at Oscar de La Renta for about two years. I then happened to fall into tailoring by chance when I got the opportunity to work with a few custom suit makers in the city. Although I am grateful for what I learned from them, I really have my womenswear background to thank. Not only did it allow me to see clothing beyond its engineering, it also gave me the aptitude for understanding beauty in its many forms. There is a reason the word “aesthetic” is thrown around alot in womenswear. It is because they really believe in the idea of inspiring through clothing. I share that same enthusiasm. Menswear in the mainstream is still quite young, so the idea of embracing certain aesthetics regardless to if it fits your lifestyle is still kind of a foreign concept to many of us. There is also this hunter mentality of acquiring certain “Grail” objects as if there is some sartorial race to be won. You hardly see this in womenswear. Not to say some women don’t do this as well, but most of them understand the artistic intentions behind the products. They can give way more reasons beyond functionality and practicality to justify their devotion to their favorite brands. We don’t listen to the Ramones because they can execute perfect guitar chords. It is because they capture a certain spirit. Clothes are the same way and many women understand that. The quicker we can condition ourselves from this mentality, the better.
It's interesting you say that menswear in the mainstream is still young. For menswear fashion, that's true, but of course the lineage of menswear as we know it today goes back very far. I wonder if that's part of the issue - women have a social role now that they rarely did 100 years ago, and that represents a sartorial challenge and opportunity - what does a woman wear to the office? There's no corresponding revolution for men, other than the long trend of casualization.
I agree, but men in general always need to justify dressing up. Clothing in any form has to serve some purpose or function. We create uniforms that allow us to simplify our definitions of fashion. Rarely are we dressed up with nowhere to go. Whenever you come across men discussing fashion it is almost always centered around forming an aesthetic around an office environment or trying to look presentable for an event. It has always been that way. Women on the other hand dress to express themselves. As their roles in society grows so does their universe of expression.
I don’t think the casualization of menswear is necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion it serves as an opening point to redefine our standards of “beauty.” The idea of a luxury tee or high design sweatpants doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it did to some years ago. It has also made it easier for the western uniform to take influence from other cultures, which I am all for. This is probably why I enjoy browsing the SW&D side of SF so much.
You've clearly got an appreciation for many different types of aesthetics. Do you try to bring them all together in your designs or do you think of it more as focusing in on one aesthetic out of many? And if so, how do you choose? Do you ever get the urge to design something totally different from what you've done so far?
I kind of have a strong sense of the Post-Imperial look that it is almost impossible for me to visually instill some of my influences. Minimalism has always been intriguing me, but I cannot, for the life of me, fully express that visually. I like color a lot and I find that it I work best when I exploit it. However, adopting some of its ideas allows me to be one in thought rather than execution. This is why many of designs are simplified shaped in repetitive variations. It is my own form of reduction- my own way of participating in that ritual.