He is different things to different people; eclectic, avant garde, highly opinionated, overly confident – call him what you may, but the contributions of London trained designer, Emmy Collins to the fashion and style industry through his creativity and his defunct controversial self named blog cannot be over-emphasised. He speaks about his passion for fashion and why he thinks the industry is in dire need of a revolution.
How did your love for fashion evolve?
It began from high School when my best friend and I used to travel from Government College Umuahia to Aba just to purchase unique pieces that couldn`t be seen anywhere in Umuahia town. Most students who loved fashion back then used to buy their pieces from a store in Umuahia but we decided we were too cool to be seen wearing what everyone else was wearing hence we went to Aba. And I haven’t looked back since then. The last time my mother bought clothes for me must have been in my second year in high school because by the time I was 12, I had already talked her into letting me buy fabrics and then taking them to a local tailor who would make garments for me. Of course I initiated the designs to be made by the tailor and my mother loved the designs and never complained. The trend to cloth myself in pieces designed by myself continued up until I decided to set up my label during a chance meeting with popular American artist, Prince in the year 2000 in New York. At this meeting he complimented a piece I wore and encouraged me to set up my own line when I told him that I designed the piece myself.
How exactly would you describe your kind of designs?
They have been described by some as being avant garde and daring with a predilection for retro, but I say that the Emmy Collins London pieces are timeless pieces that you can wear for a certain time and retire them for months or even a year. However, when you decide to wear them again, they will still not look out of vogue hence our slogan, ‘Never in vogue, never out of vogue’. They might be expensive but in the end, it works out cheap because they serve you for a very long time. They are not in any way trendy.
Who are your designs made for specifically?
For the Nigerian individual who appreciates quality but doesn’t want to be in your face. He loves to have details incorporated into his pieces but subtly. Over the years, I have studied an average Nigerian fashion aficionado and how he would love his pieces made. This sort of client in Nigeria doesn’t mind the cost but you must offer great fit, quality tailoring and fabrics and all these are what I am famed for.
And your muse?
Like all designers, I do have a few muses in Nigeria some of who are; Tony Elumelu, Eyimofe Atake, Musa Danjuma. They are the sort of individuals I am inspired to design for because despite being in the business world, they love to push the envelope when it comes to fashion and I quite appreciate that. I don`t believe there is any Nigerian designer catering for that niche crowd so my aim is to bridge that gap. I am not all about male clothing. I have in fact made a few feminine pieces in the past and designed and brought many more female pieces to Nigeria than most people realize.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
I am a dreamer and my imagination can actually run wild. So I get inspiration for most my designs through dreams and imaginations. Serenity is very motivating for me in my line of work, hence I don’t even try to initiate designs while in Nigeria because serenity is such a luxury out here.
What prompted you to relocate to the UK in the first place?
I have been living in the United Kingdom for about 15yrs now. The well established fashion industry in the UK was very attractive to me and necessitated my relocation from Amsterdam where I was living before and where I am also a citizen.
You are now more visible in Nigeria. Any particular reason for this?
Well because apart from doing a lot more fashion wise, here, there are a few other things that keeps me staying longer in Nigeria. However, I haven’t relocated from my base in England yet.
What is your take on the Nigerian fashion industry as it is today?
I am very passionate about our fashion industry. This is one land that is awash with a lot of talents but we are unfortunately not maximizing the full potentials of the talents that abound here. I noticed these short comings awhile ago but now I am happy to say that I am doing whatever is within my power to help nurture these talents. We need more people, government, corporate entities to invest in upcoming designers whom I refer to as the future of the Nigerian Fashion industry. My project, ‘The Nigeria Fashion Workshop’ which is my own way of contributing to the growth of the industry has been ongoing for about two years now and I have borne all the stress and expenses to ensure that the attendees will at least be acquainted with most of the basics in fashion. However, I have realized that it is not sustainable to offer these courses free of charge unless we receive help from somewhere. The focus of these courses is mainly about fashion business and the quality of tailoring as I believe that most of these upcoming designers regard fashion as a hobby rather than as a business. Also, while the designs of their garment might be superb, the quality of the tailoring lets them down. So in that regard, I want to facilitate bringing down what is obtainable in international standards in order to convince Nigerians who constantly shop abroad to shop here. But before they do that, we (the designers) must offer them the quality they are used to as they would not be inclined to shop locally based only on sentiments. Finally, I must say we have potentials to rule the world but mindsets need to be drastically altered for us to get to where we need to be.
Your blog, diarybyemmycollins.com, before it was shut down, was noted for its ‘vicious’ attack, so to speak, on celebrities both home and abroad, regarding their style and choice of clothing. What did you hope to achieve with the blog?
The blog was simply an avenue to voice out my opinion on anything but mostly about fashion and offer alternative views. It wasn’t set up to correct anomalies or to personally attack individuals like most people think. Of course I am aware that Nigerians are not used to someone voicing out their opinion, so we will always misconstrue opposing views for personal attacks or what the politicians call ‘political attacks’. That is the oldest trick in the book and I am well experienced enough to recognize that and I must categorically state that I am not fazed by that all.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style has evolved over the years but presently, I am at the phase where what inspires my personal style are fit, quality of fabric and quality of tailoring. I am not as quirky as I used to be. I used to be this afro haired guy who even had long white scarf tied and knotted around my afro hair. I guess age calms you down a few notches. Presently, I am most comfortable in suits when in United Kingdom but in Nigeria, I am good in my short sleeves shirts due to the humid weather.
What is your fashion fetish?
I don’t really have one. I hate being overly attached to material stuff. But I am a lover of vintage cars. I am an old school sort of dude so the new cars don’t quite appeal to me. My ultimate dream car would be a Bentley or Rolls Royce 50 or 60’s model.
How do you let off steam?
I unwind by observing people. I know it sounds weird, but it is actually inspiring to me. The strangest people have actually inspired my pieces in the past. But my dream destination to unwind after a long period of work is Brazil. The reason is quite obvious.