Inside the world of Nigerian costumiers


From behind the curtains and the camera lenses, Yetunde Oladeinde and Mary Fabeyo seek out Nigerian movie and theatre costumiers to talk about what they love to do. Amazingly, it is a world as challenging as any in the industry, and quite of the essence too.
IN the entertainment arena, actors and actresses hold the ace. They are always sought after before, during and after every production. However, there are other professionals who add great value to movies, films and the entire production process. In this category, you find costumiers, the artists with the deft touches, who design costumes for the characters. Unfortunately, they seem to ‘die’ immediately a movie, film or TV production ends. The big question here is, whether their role is significant or if it can be ignored.
Truth be told, costumiers are very important and they could make or mar an entire production process. So, what do they really do?
The costume designer usually seeks to enhance a character’s personality, and create an evolving plot of colour, changing social status, or period through the visual design of garments and accessories. They may distort or enhance the body acting within the boundaries of the director’s vision.
Before embarking on any video or film production, the costume designer must read the script thoroughly to learn about the personalities of the characters. If the production is contemporary or epic, the costume designer researches the clothing style worn in that era. If a production is set in the future or has a unique theme, the costume designer consults with the director to interpret that vision into the costumes. All this are important because without appropriate relation or interpretation of the visual designs, especially costume, the viewer might have a misunderstanding of the total message.
Interestingly, it also helps the viewer to understand the nature of the characters on screen. It should meet the style of production, whether it is contemporary or epic. As with all design elements, the costume needs to fit in with the overall cohesive picture. It should also be able to fill in the gap of what a viewer might miss in the course of the actor’s verbal delivery.”

A trip into the world of those who have played one role or the other tells you about the potentials, challenges and prospects in the sector. For Nneka Moses, actress and co-presenter of Goge Africa, a cultural and entertainment program, her passion for designing made it easy for her to fit into the role of a costumier.
“My fashion sense is one of the things that kept Goge Africa going and Aken G, my label was a great inspiration. I designed most of the costumes we wore on the program.”
She adds: “The designs came from inspiration because all designers are inspired, but the truth is that what I see everyday especially during foreign tours, inspires me much. From ethnic to contemporary design, I think I have seen them all. All these also have much influence on me.”
Going down memory lane, Nneka recalls how it all started: “Some years back, we didn’t have programs like Goge Africa on air; people were not delving much into cultural programs and my husband had this experience when he was managing some top flight Nigerian artistes, especially Onyeka Onwenu and late Tina Onwudiwe. He said he had lots of problems trying to get their music aired on radio and their videos played on TV, so he tried starting a show, where he could showcase the works of these artistes. Then he wanted a radio show and I said to him, why not make it a TV show and I promised to dress him up really nice in African costumes, since I design clothes.”Costuming, interestingly, was the fallout of a dream for Gloria Ogwu whose first love was acting. “Usually, those who write scripts and the producers always know who they want. I did auditioning to prove myself and in the process, I discovered that I needed to bring about 15 costumes for one thing.”
Those frustrating moments took her into the wonderful world of costumiers, make-up artist and now a producer. “One of the first people I tried to work with at that time was Chico Ejiro. My first hit at costuming however, was with Tony One Week. Then for make-up, I did Brave Heart with Omotola Ekehinde, Joke Silva, Zack Orji and many others.”
The turning point came in year 2002 with Osofia in London. “Then I was training with Nkechi Asiegbu on costume and Segun Arinze was a cast on that set. When he saw my performance, he liked it. He told me about the job and the people that I had to work with. We had just come back from location in Abuja. So, when we came back to Lagos, I hooked onto Segun and he introduced me to Kingsley Ogoro.”

That also gave birth to another opportunity. “I worked on Church in Crisis and it was a successful outing. Here, I worked on artistes like Ramsey Noah, Grace Amah and Segun Arinze.”
Ogwu continued: “In Osofia in London, I handled all the costumes, working on the wardrobe of every character in the movie. After this, I worked with Emem Isong on the Best of the East, Bachelors and I have worked on over 60 movies. I have also done a couple of work on a series of soaps with producers like Tade Ogidan and some TV commercials.”

Passion, dedication and hard work got Ogwu recognitions like the AMAA awards for the movie titled, Rising Moon. “I have gained so much in this field and thought it would be a great idea to empower other people. So, what I did was to study the other side of costuming, which I also found to be very interesting. This I used to empower more people, especially youths and people who are jobless. It is so sad because there is mass retrenchment in all the sectors.
The commercial aspect of the job, Ogwu informs, stands out and goes beyond Nigeria and also gives room for improvement and international exposure. “For a production that I did recently, I was signed on for two weeks. Everything was set and we were working on the pre-production, which is actually harder than the real shoot. In year 2011, I worked on a Guinness commercial with the producer, Femi Odugbemi of DV works and I was assisting a South African producer called Pearl. Generally, I must say that life has been sweet, cozy and wonderful for me. I have been a costumier in Nigeria for about 16 years and I must say that it has been a wonderful experience. Working on movie and films does not happen all the time. So, it was better to continue both and make the better of the two worlds.”
She continues: “When I’m not costuming on local shooting, I would be producing. There’s a lot to do behind the scenes but the experience is wonderful. There’s so much to do and a lot to learn. 16 years down the line and I am still leaning. The industry has lots of potentials and opportunities to tap from. It all depends on your creativity and strength because it is time-consuming. The film that is busting my head now is Gidi Blues by the legendary filmmaker himself, Femi Odugbemi. He is a perfectionist and that way he will push you to your destiny.”
At the beginning of the Nollywood era, costuming gained better recognition and the practitioners became very creative. Esther Ilelogbon, a lawyer and designer was part of the pioneering team at that point and she goes down memory lane. “In the early 90s, I was into make-up and costuming and we were the pioneer of the home video industry then. We had to dress the artistes and handle their make-up and special effect. I worked on Tade Ogidan’s movie which was a blockbuster, featuring Richard Mofe Damijo and Teju Babyface. I also worked with people like Kate Henshaw, Omotola, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Jennifer Eliogu and Eucharia Anunobi. It was exciting mingling with them. The only disadvantage was that you were working behind the camera.”

Some of the awards she received included the Global Excellence Leadership award and Most Creative Designer of the Year. “I also got the Great Women Achievers Award, News of The People Achievers Award, City People Ankara Award, amongst others.”
Happily, she goes down memory lane, talking about the high point of her career as a costumier. “I was able to get contacts, learn a number of things about business, life, entrepreneurship and the entertainment industry. My husband is also in the industry and we met in the course of work. He is a special effect person and he has a studio.”

Wendy Tabansi, a top Nigerian designer and an associate, Chioma Udeh recently put together a show under the African International Film Festival to enhance the skills of practitioners. “It is called Costumes for Films. Here, we are focusing our attention on designing for films. The designers would need to do things differently, such as designing for periods. My friend is the founder of AFRIFF and we came together on this.”
She informs that: “It is different from what we do usually but because I am a creative person and someone drawn to the film industry. My friend wanted a show and she wanted someone who could do it. We understand that there is a need for costuming our films; the sector is getting more competitive. Films like October 1 have shown that there is a need and it would be showcased locally and internationally.”
Also in the pack is American-born Nigerian costumier, Queen Sylvia Akuchie. “My desire is to train more Nigerians in the art of costume designing and styling for television. I strongly believe that training costume designers and stylists would enhance professionalism in local film and television production.

Over the years, the U.S.-based woman has enjoyed the opportunity of working with Hollywood moguls like Tyler Perry and Hip-hop Star, Lil Wayne.
She has also expressed her strength of creativity in styling and costume designing by working with Grammy-award winning Masha Ambros and R&B chart-topper, Mario. Her works have been featured in Essence, Ebony and Men’s Health Magazines and she has had the opportunity to be part of many prestigious red carpet shows like the BET Awards, Emmy’s, Oscars and Grammys.

Her over ten years experience in Hollywood and conscious sense of taste, colour, blend and finesse have helped her to make her clients outstanding and confident with a reassurance of their looks.
“I know how well stylish outfits make celebrities look and that guides me to what I make for my clients, which leaves them looking good and feeling great always. I am fulfilled to see my clients feel confident, proud, beautiful and stylish,” she said.

The creative lady also goes on to talk about the turning point in her career. “It worked for me when some clients needed to feature in top shows like Larry King Live or the Oprah Show. I take time to research colours and blend them because it is very important to your finished work. A costume should not compete for attention with the studio furniture because of colour; the personality should rather have on a distinctive outfit,” she said.
Akuchie also talked about the importance of creating characters, using costumes irrespective of the peculiar demands of different characters. The high point of using costume to achieve desired goals remains in the designer’s creative ability to send the message.
Interestingly, there are also some men making waves in the sector. For instance, some years back, the return of Nollywood’s veteran actress, Liz Benson-Ameye attracted a resounding attention to the make-believe industry.
Her majestic entrance was traced to her costumes and appearances on screen. All credits to award-winning costumier, Chiemela Nwagboso, who single-handedly designed the outfits worn by the Nollywood screen goddess.
The Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards winner, Chiemela Nwagboso has consistently added value to his skill, as he continues to be in the forefront of launching talk-town wears, which have placed him close to the hearts of fashion-buffs.
One of such works is exhibited in The Palace, a television series that was produced by Kingsley Okereke and directed by Chidi Anyanwu.

The actors and actresses who work with them should also be able to assess their performance and how to improve on their skills. According to Foluke Daramola, “Nigerian costumiers are doing a great job and they need to be encouraged to put in their best. One person that I am impressed with is Arewa and she sure knows her onions.”
However, there is a snag: “Even though, they are putting in so much passion into what they do, there are still a few gaps that need to be addressed. For instance, most of the times at locations, you discover that some of the costumes they give us, especially for people like me that are on the big size, do not fit. Realistically, in Nigeria, I think we still have a long way to go in terms of costumiers and fashion designers.”

To have a better output, Daramola advises that it is better to follow international standards and be ready to invest in the sector. “Here, I think that things would get better, if our costumiers get their costumes ready before the movie shoot, like they usually do abroad. This would make things better and actors and actresses can check the costumes to know if they fit perfectly or not.”
Daramola adds that: “Personally, I would also say that I prefer personal costume designers to the general ones at locations because they are more detailed and have the resources to work with. So, I would therefore commend them for a job well done, but I would also advise them to put in more efforts.”

Next, you talk to Jenifer who recently produced a movie titled Surulere Movie. She agreed that they are a wonderful part of the production process. “I know a couple of stylists who also play a great role in the outlook of the characters and they are different from costume designers. Costume designers generally create the look. I have worked with a couple of them and they are absolutely professional. However, you have a couple of people who combine all this roles and they do these things very well.”One advantage over the years is the projection of African fabrics, clothing styles depicting the Nigerian culture and tradition. “Some of our costumiers hardly go through the process a costume designer is supposed to go through before finally arriving at a particular costume for the actor. Sometimes, the colour combination that is supposed to help bring out the mood of a character is messed up and the message gets lost in the process,” says Modupe Obazee, who once acted in the village headmaster.

She adds that: “The most important thing is that a professional costume designer needs to be artistic, creative and detail-oriented. This usually contributes greatly in bringing out the inner meaning of a film production, through the use of appropriate costume. The costume designer therefore establishes the identity and personality of characters by designing the production.”

Obazee continues: “The professional handling this task must therefore be informed about design elements of colour and fabric textures, to create fashion statement in a performance. Through film, costume can be used to affect the society. This is based on the ability of the costume designer’s creativity to reflect the socio-economic life of the environment in which the story or the plot revolves.”

Like every other sector, the Nigerian factor also comes in here. Sometimes, it works for good and some other times, it is ludicrous. The perceived boom in the sector has also opened doors for all shades of practitioners.
Sadly, costume remains one of the most understood but under – appreciated film making art. The truth however, is that the contribution of the average costumier is far in excess of merely ‘dressing an actor for their role, it is actually a discourse. In movies, even the most rudimentary item of clothing can be a message the director wants to pass across to his viewers.
Interestingly, you find that this area is given adequate priority in the developed countries and you find the skill divided into different areas. The team usually includes the freelance designers, who are hired for a specific production by a theatre, dance or opera company, and may or may not actually be local to the theatre they design for. A freelancer is traditionally paid in three installments: upon hire, on delivery of final renderings, and opening night of the production.

Freelancers are not obligated to any exclusivity in what projects they work on, and may design for several productions concurrently.
Next, you have the residential designer that is usually hired by a specific theatre, dance or opera company for an extended series of productions. Unlike the freelancer, a residential designer is consistently “on location” at the theater at hand to work with costume studio and other collaborators.
That is not all. They also have the academic designer who holds professorship at a school. The designer is primarily an instructor, but may also act as a residential designer to varying degrees. They are often free to freelance, as their schedule allows. A number of these professionals also go into specialization, sourcing items like dance shoes, dance wear and other items for stage, theater, circus and more.


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