5 minute read

Patience Torlowei - STYLE WITH A STORY

From her hand-painted Esther dress – which became the first modern fashion piece to become part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art in the US – to the timeless designs of her Torlowei label, Patience Torlowei has married her own life and personality with concerns on sustainability in her powerful, but always beautiful work. Here the Nigerian designer tells FLYafrica why her clothes are an antidote to fast fashion, how she has fostered home-grown talent since returning to Lagos and how she is building a new appreciation of luxury lingerie in Africa.

Q: Can you tell me briefly about your upbringing in Enugu? Were you creative even then?

I was born in Enugu in the Easternpart of Nigeria. When I was threeyears old the Biafran War had brokenout and my family were removedon the last boat from Enugu to myancestral village, Abari, in the NigerDelta. I don’t remember much fromthis time because my parents didthe best they could to shield us fromthe upheaval, however I know itchanged our lives forever. My motherhad a thriving catering business inEnugu before the war, but we losteverything.

Throughout my time at schoolI showed a talent for art and I eventuallyended up studying textile design.I wouldn’t say I was ever interested inclothes and fashion explicitly, ratherthey were another organic way forme express my relationship with thecreative process. I never saw theneed to conform to societal normsand I strongly believed in fashionbeing a tool of self-expression. Iguess that frame of mind has juststuck with me.

DETAIL : Torlowei is renowned for its embroidery

DETAIL : Torlowei is renowned for its embroidery

Images courtesy of Patience Torlowei

Q: Your Esther dress contains images of the damage you saw being done to the natural beauty of your hometown. Do you feel there is a story – though more subtle – behind all the fashion items you create?

All my pieces are extensions of myself and, in the words of my children, I always have a lot of things to say and opinions to express.

Esther can be described as the embodiment of how I believe fashion can be used as a communication tool. As a proud African, Nigerian and Niger-Deltan it pains me to see how my ancestral lands have been destroyed by conflict, greed and poverty. This piece gave me the perfect opportunity to share my feelings.

The environment and sustainability form a very strong part of my narrative, and this has been instilled in Torlowei. We express this through our choice of raw materials and manufacturing processes. We use mostly natural fibres such as silks and cottons, have started exploring the use of recycled polyester fibres and where possible we prefer patronising local craftsmen to help stimulate our economy.

The demand for fast fashion is also, I believe, a problematic symptom of our world today. With this in mind, Torlowei pieces have been designed to be timeless and long-lasting. Staples for any wardrobe.

NIGERIAN DESIGNER : Patience Torlowei

NIGERIAN DESIGNER : Patience Torlowei

Images courtesy of Patience Torlowei

Q: Could you tell me about the influences you have drawn from for your Torlowei label?

I am influenced by beautiful things. I am influenced by a time when I believe clothing had more meaning and depth. When you could feel the love and labour that would have gone into a single piece.

My signature style is the timeless. On the one hand, my eclectic spectrum is my love for clean cuts and straight shapes in rigid materials such as cotton organdie and silk Mikado. On the other hand I guess you could say I’m in love with the romantic. Think the artist, Alphonse Mucha. Silk crêpes and chiffons, French leavers’ laces, delicate embroidery work on the daintiest pieces.

TIMELESS STYLE : A flowing silk gown from the Torlowei collection

TIMELESS STYLE : A flowing silk gown from the Torlowei collection

Images courtesy of Patience Torlowei

We have a huge pool of local talent who need nothing more than guidance and a steady hand

Q: You are well travelled (Torlowei has lived in Brussels, London, Israel, Germany and Portugal, but has called Lagos home for the past 10 years). Where do you source your materials?

I source my materials from where I perceive to have the best offerings

of the pieces in question. My lacesare from France; my silks are wovenin India and Italy; our show-stoppingfabric is made by hand in Switzerlandand our adire (traditional Yoruba tiedyedcloth) is dyed in Nigeria. Everylocation and every supplier has thebest material in their class.

SAFE AND STYLISH Torlowei textile masks

SAFE AND STYLISH Torlowei textile masks

Q: You involve Nigerian artisans inproducing your garments. Was thebank of talent already there or didyou set up a training scheme forthose you work with?

It’s a constant work in progress,however at the heart of this sentimentis my original reason for moving toNigeria: to create jobs locally. We havea huge pool of local talent who neednothing more than guidance and asteady hand to support them andtheir craft.

Q: Can you tell me about the work that goes into creating the pieces from your Torlowei collection?

We have three categories of Torlowei items. There is the madeto-measure service where we make one-of-a-kind pieces to our customer’s specification. Then we have our main line, which houses our seasonal lingerie and ready-to-wear collections. These pieces are available for limited amounts of time. Finally, we have our Torlowei Essentials. This is where you can find our wardrobe staples that will be available year in, year out.

Q: You produce some beautiful nightwear and lingerie. Why does this appeal to you? Have you seen your work has helped open up an interest in buying luxury lingerie in Africa?

Lingerie has always been my favourite part of fashion. I love the delicacy, intimacy and privacy of it. I simply can’t get enough of it. I would say my work has definitely opened a sense of intrigue. Lingerie design (and manufacturing) and Africa after all don’t traditionally go hand in hand. I do however believe there is a market for buying luxury lingerie, made by Africans in Africa.

Find out more

To browse and buy the latest Torlowei lounge and nightwear, lingerie and readyto-wear range, visit the website patiencetorlowei.com