When Super-Stylist Yummie Ogbebor paid a visit to the BellaNaija Style offices, we had all made sure (subtly of course) that we had our sartorial game face on. This was not the day for a scuffed shoe, creased blouse or no jewellery, unless one was going for Boho-Vagrant as their style story, but with hugs for all and the broadest smile ever she declared us all looking ‘fabulous’ and we could get on with the business of chatting about her journey so far as stylist and now owner of creatively curated retail shop and style hub, The Studio in Victoria Island.
“My experience is that a fashion designer creates pieces but what I do is I put those pieces together and help them tell a story.”
She says in her sing-song voice which has seen her work closely with some of the continent’s leading brands. She also attributes travel and exposure to a myriad of points of view as having contributed to her success:
“Schooling, studying fashion design, living abroad, specifically New York, I think helped shape who I am in terms of thinking, breathing and eating creativity.”
To those not involved in the fashion world one might feel Yummie has ventured into the realm of hyperbole, but the work of a stylist is demanding and all consuming. It is not a case of picking out pretty clothes from a rack and being on one’s proverbial way. It is about articulating a designer’s, art director’s and in the case of personal styling individual’s vision. You are unpicking often from unsaid cues and reflecting back what feelings are meant to be evoked from the finished ensembles. Are we meant to tear up at the romance, fist bump at the slayage or side-eye because we wished we had thought of putting together just so ourselves?
“It has been a lot of hard work, it’s been a lot of heartaches , It’s been a lot of long hours but I think what also helps is being passionate about what you’re doing. So it doesn’t feel like work. So if I work for 27 hours and you know sleep for two hours and have to wake up and do it all over again I can. I am alive when I am on set.”
Returning to Nigeria for this global nomad has been an interesting journey which has seen her forge a long term styling collaboration with superstars such as Rita Dominic, Osas and Chief BellaStylista Uche Pedro. But she is emphatic about not using the ‘c’ word.
“I see myself as a fashion slash wardrobe stylist, I am for everyone, everyone and anyone who needs…not just celebrities.”
She was also aware that as a returnee she would have to work hard to prove herself in her industry in spite of and in some cases precisely because of prior successes elsewhere. Among her many engagements since making Lagos her base has been working closely with leading television and film productions at Ebony Life TV and Glam Networks and consulting for numerous local and international brands: her recent collaboration with GTB’s Fashion Weekend saw beautiful window displays and a series of fierce editorial spreads with TY Bello behind the lens for GTB’s Fashion Weekend’s inaugural glossy magazine reminding everyone of this style polymath’s editorial roots.
Yummie’s sanguine approach is pivotal to her success which took as its foundation and calling card, consistent quality work and not relying on name-dropping of past glories or parachutes of opportunity granted due to privilege and access:
“Coming to Nigeria , the one thing I have learnt was not to expect anything from anyone but to also know that I wasn’t coming here to change anything , I am not like Jesus, some second coming or anything like that . That was really important. However, I also know that there is only one version of me and my job was to be the best that I could be. I am firm believer in RYOR “Run Your Own Race.”
However, in this era of the ‘gram it is her work with famous clients that has captured the imagination of many beyond fashion circles, who have marvelled at her ability to distil the true visual essence of those she works with and concedes that with Rita and Seyi it has been an intuitive journey, which as the relationship deepened has resulted in an innate trust between stylist and styled. She is quick to side-step any question of favourites but talked fondly of working with Michelle Dede who like her has a penchant for the avant-garde:
“The person that I have had more adventures with because they share my belief that style is fun is Michelle Dede. I proclaim her my chameleon; I could dress her as an Asian princess and you know, Michelle would actually embody that character. So taking the pictures, poses everything, it would all be brought to life. For that reason alone it is always fun playing with Michelle.”
The opening of The Studio comes at a time when style has seemingly been both democratised (anyone with the chutzpah and the requisite amount of followers and likes can proclaim themselves a style blogger/influencer) and made somewhat elitist with many individuals both famous and not paying huge sums for access to and assistance from the right stylist. It is a notion that Yummie is animated in addressing:
“Style is me, style is you, style is everyone. Style is objective because what I or who I think is stylish might not be the same for the person sitting next to me… Money has nothing to do with style. Money can buy you fashionable items but style cannot be bought.”
This belief is reflected in the edit at The Studio which has affordable and blow the budget pieces side by side with Yummie on hand to give advice should a customer request it. Visitors are encouraged to play, one of Yummie’s most oft used words, and it is this approachable, relaxed but with an expert at the helm vibe that will be the key to the store’s success. Even before the official launch, business was brisk with a steady stream of customers happy to have had their style quandary solved.
Of course we couldn’t let Yummie go without grilling her to share some style secrets with all the Bella Stylistas: First things up was the perennial question of wardrobe essentials:
“Everyone should have a white shirt. Long sleeved, short sleeved, a white shirt because you can wear it in so many ways. Everyone should have a black suit, a pant suit, I mean I can even tell you what you can do with the pants or the jacket, but there are so many ways you can wear it. Everyone should have a basic white T. Everyone should have a to-go bag, so if you are the kind of person that likes the hobo shape, the big one, a little purse whatever it is you should have a functional bag that works for you. Comfortable shoes: What type I cannot say because comfort levels differ, but basically shoes you know you can rock for hours on end.”
She conceded there were still a few women on the planet that would be a dream come true to style:
“Tracy Ellis Ross because fashion for her is not serious it’s fun and playful. Maybe I will also just choose Rihanna too because her body is banging!”
Like many women Yummie noted the correlation between style choices, life stages and hair style:
“My style I can’t really pinpoint but I know I tend to go for androgyny. I love Helmut Lang for instance. But it also depends on my hairstyle and I realise that as I get older , when I am rocking my natural low-cut I tend to go for more shirt like fabrics and if I have braids then i wear more dresses. My hair style definitely plays a role with what I tend to wear.”
But what about that one live in forever and a day piece? If she was limited to one item for all style eternity what would it be?
“Me personally? Booty shorts. , I can do shorts as I love my legs. I could wear shorts for the rest of my life and I would be good.”
With legs like hers so would we! But jest and noting of banging body aside, one cannot help but be left inspired, excited and expectant for what Yummie will do next both with The Studio and beyond. With a naturally sunny disposition, a prodigious work ethic and never can be bought eye for the extraordinary, only good things await.