What led to your design career ?
I never thought I would work in fashion. I took my first job as a carpenter’s assistant in Portugal. I was into electronics and moved to Spain to study; I loved fixing radios and things like that.
My father was a tailor, so I had my first bespoke suit at the age of 5 like most African kids did; this was Sunday attire. He would ask me to thread a needle in the machine, pass him scissors and chalk or hold fabric, but all I wanted to do was play futbal!
How did this lead to design?
I fell in love with vintage pieces and altered them to fit me. I bought a pattern cutting book, created a few collections and opened my own shop in Sweden called Solo y Unico (spanish for One and only) that I ran for 5 years. Then I went to Savile Row and learned all the rules I had been breaking.
Was it difficult to gain the trust of those old school tailors?
Savile Row is like a secret society; they’re very proud of their tradition and old mindset– just like my old folks back home. I have a lot of respect for the history of tailoring. It takes time for traditional men to understand what’s going on in our young and disturbed minds. My old bossOzwald Boateng was the peacock of Savile Row. When I joined the brand I added color and a slight design twist to their classic fabrics; the fabric was familiar to them, the twist was not. You have to learn the rules so you can learn how to break them.
Do you collect anything in particular?
Vintage cameras. When I travel I look for flea markets and go bananas buying them. I have a wall of 35mm, Polaroid, Instax 210 and Super 8 cameras. I studied photography before fashion; I love the stylized way that old cameras are built.
Which shops do you regularly visit?
My all time favorite is The Convenience Store in West London. Otherwise I respect Dover Street Market for their innovation, Spencer Hart for their 1940’s Palm Spring sophistication, and The Ozwald Boateng Flagship at 30 Savile Row where I can find the most charming characters.
What has been your most recent eye-opening travel experience?
Last November I went to African Fashion Week to style the cover of GQ Africa. I hadn’t been home for 20 years, so it was really fun. I find Soweto very beautiful.
I discovered the Smarteez sub-culture there; a group of young creative people: designers, tailors, seamstresses, stylists, and photographers. They took care of me. I fell in love with it.
I think once I decide to get married, I will take my wife there for our wedding; It’s a spiritual place, it’s alive.
How do you approach getting dressed every day?
I have to wake up early to go to the design studio, and always go to bed late because I’m a night person—so I put together my outfits the night before, always starting with my shoes and my hat.
Do you dress differently when travelling?
Looking sharp in a white shirt and black tie is a must for me when travelling, if I look like business, the passport control officers won’t bother me. I never wear soft clothing; I would feel like part of the African runners.
You feel best when wearing…
My first made-to-measure super 130s sb2 dark grey suit made by our factory in Portugal. It fits me so well; classic, not too loud, not too fashion—just very stylish and cool. It’s what I picture Miles Davis wearing in 1965 when he used to play with Wayne Shorter.
I wear a hat with every outfit, and I’ve had facial hair for a long time; when I had my own business, I wouldn’t shave until I completed the collection I was designing. It brought focus to what I was working on. Lately I’ve been wearing vintage club ties, I find them both stylish and respectful.
The most memorable advice from your parents…?
Every time I go to see visit them in Belgium they have more advice, but the phrase I always keep in mind is to always be honest and work hard, you will get what you deserve.
Most cherished heirloom?
Old family photographs. I’m a black gypsy; I left home very young to travel but brought these everywhere. These photos make me feel happy and home wherever I am; my siblings, my cool uncles, my very beautiful mom with her amazing smile.
What do you consider to be your first ‘grown up’ purchase?
I bought myself a Mexican silver bracelet for £100 when I moved to London in 1996, and didn’t have much money. I wanted to wear something of value that said “I am a grown man now.” My style evolved, but the bracelet remained, until I lost it in Florence. My best mate and I decided to go to Mexico and make a silver collection in homage to my first adult purchase.
You skimp when buying…?
Public transportation fare; I cycle a lot which keeps me fit while saving money and generating less pollution– especially in London.
What music keeps you going?
I’ve always been a big fan of jazz and blues (particularly Robert Johnson and Otis Spann) but recently my brain has split into two: half is quiet and classic with Cab Calloway’s music, and the other is fast with Kuduro music. Kuduro originated in my country, kids all over are making it more alternative—Buraka Som Sistema for example.
Twelve Bar Blues by Patrick Neate which is full of inspiring African stories. Also “Las confesiones de un pequeno filosofo” by Jose Maria Martinez Cachero; which is a very well written autobiography.
Whose style has influenced your own?
My siblings. My brother used to wear vintage leather Members Only jackets with Plimsolls and Wayfarers. One of my sisters would wear over sized white shirts with black berets, while the other wore acid washed denim dresses with bleached hair—I thought they were so cool.
Culled from here