The London-based designer spins yarns with his thoughtful and
Don’t let appearances deceive you. Olubiyi Thomas might look like the most chilled out guy in London but for AW17 he is in a fighting mood. The abysmal state of the world’s current affairs, and the constant stream of bad news that the past year has brought, fuelled his research for the collection. “I was angry, which got me thinking about the crusades, and that took me to medieval armour and then military uniforms throughout the ages,” the designer explains. His stream of consciousness then lead him to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Renaissance paintings of The Tower of Babel, and the religious turmoil they depict. “There are so many similarities in history when it comes to cultural dress and conflict so I pushed that idea to create a sort of post-apocalyptic look. It’s only after disasters happen that we realise we’re all human and should just relax.”
Thomas’s buffalo soldiers wear loose blazers, lightweight greatcoats, draped trousers and soft cardigans made from sustainable wools and cottons. A palette of gentle greys, whites and blacks and detailing including raw edges and graphic insignia suggest a peaceful sartorial resistance.
The designer’s own dual heritage and cross-cultural upbringing has informed his entire approach to menswear, which is in part a reflection upon post-colonial, contemporary style. Born in Lagos, his family moved to Glasgow when he was three, where being one of the only black people at school was not easy. “Racism in Scotland comes more from a place of ignorance than arrogance. There was a lot of ‘You’re a bit weird – where are you from?’” he recalls. Excelling at fine art, he gravitated from painting and sketching to fashion during his art foundation course after discovering the work of Aitor Throup. “His designs were technical and futuristic but there was also an art form to them beyond being about clothes. He created worlds rather than trends.”
Thomas relocated to London to study menswear at Central Saint Martins and worked at James Long, Alexander McQueen, Siki Im and De Rien before establishing his own brand for SS16. Inspired as much by Victorian tailoring and Malian textiles as by Yinka Shonibare and Hieronymus Bosch, he’s honed an appreciation for artisanal techniques and meaningful craftsmanship. The designer is now becoming known for his deconstructed, elongated silhouettes that wrap and layer with accomplished ease. He has showcased in New York, Paris, Copenhagen and London and has his sights set on the Japanese and Nigerian markets next. So given his worldly view, who makes his dream list of people to dress in future? “Gaika, Micky Lightfoot, FKA Twigs, Andre 3000, Solange, Young Thug, Dev Hynes, Johnny Depp… there’s so many. Although my ex-girlfriend told me her gran would wear it too!”