Tell us about the show -- is there a theme that unites all of the pieces on display? It seems like an assemblage of things put together.
It's great that you used the word assemblage because that's the word I use all the time and people think I'm crazy! Short of being called a hoarder, which I'm not, that's really what it is. You hit the nail on the head. Basically it is an assemblage of things that I love, things that inspire me, people whose work I love and have always been inspired by and also featuring bits of my collection and just things. The thread running through it is about a new way of seeing things. In my world, especially in fashion, things are really put into boxes. I have always been hard pressed to pick up one thing because I live in a world that is full of so many things, both inspiring and enlightening. In a way, that's what my store in London is, it's a kind of assemblage of things that give light to the clothes. If I had a store in New York, this is what it would look like.
Above: Looks from Olowu's S/S/ '11 show.
It almost reminds me of an interactive, three-dimensional "mood board."
Absolutely. And it's not just a mood -- the other thing that I feel grateful about is the fact that here I am [and] it's an open-door thing. It's not for the art crowd, it's not for the fashion crowd, it's for anyone who wants to see things in a new way. Americans are a very supportive fashion world for me and I've had a lot of success in America with my work. Beauty is universal and that thread runs through but it's not all beauty just for the sake of being beautiful. I respect workmanship, I respect effort and thought and I think whether you're looking at a dress or a photograph, a cushion, a chair that's beautifully designed, that comes through.
Do you think this show, given its international scope, reflects your own international background?
Yes, absolutely. It's a very international aesthetic. I always feel that when you look at the work of writers you admire --for example, I admire James Baldwin, I love Hemingway, I love Chinua Achebe -- I even love Shakespeare in a funny way! -- they have a very international [aesthetic]. Dickens was international! Whether you read Vanity Fair, you'd be transported back-and-forth. And I think that in the world we live in now, more so that's the case. I was very lucky because this is how I was raised.
And I have this subconscious idea of how everyone that's creative, whatever they're doing, somehow thinks the same way. Take aside what they want to achieve, prestige-wise, the process is very similar, which is why when you get an artisan that might be baking cakes or a shoemaker or designer or painter together, they have something to talk about. When you get a good writer, journalist or cinematographer together, they have something to talk about. I think that's been my experience in the world and I know that [is the case] in New York. I'm very fortunate [that] I spend so much time there because my wife [Thelma Golden] is a New Yorker. I feel that vibe a lot in New York, I really do. It always reminds me of when I used to be a kid looking at Interview magazine and even early issues of PAPER when I was much younger. I used to always imagine this world where there was a great fusion and acceptance and a very unselfish sharing [of] ideas and beautiful things.
Globalization is often pegged as a bad thing because it gets rid of individual cultures. On the flip-side, however, it could also mean having a mix of cultures side-by-side, which it seems like you're doing.
Absolutely. When you're confident of your heritage, people can accept anything. A lot of racism or ridiculous ideas that exist in the world stem from a fear of one's own self. And without sounding arrogant, my Nigerian-Jamaican heritage is [something] I'm very aware of and very proud of. I went to school and lived in England for a long time so I have that side of me and now I have that American/New York lifestyle, which 30 years ago, I used to dream about, having access to that New York City scene so it's come full circle.
When I started my label, some people didn't get it because they were looking for the obvious but actually the buying public rushed out and got it because they [understood] it. That was a real thing for me. The whole idea is that everyone, wherever you're from, if you are in the creative world, has ideas about everything -- whatever [the] culture. There are ways of absorbing and assimilating but it needs to be done in a really respectful way. I don't like clichés. I don't like, for instance, [the idea that] Breton stripes mean French and a mask means somewhere in Africa. It's boring. People are a lot more sophisticated and I think this is taken for granted but I think the world we live in now with bloggers especially [is more sophisticated]. I'm terrible on the internet but once in a while my assistant will show me a Google alert and you see these bloggers and you think, "Oh my god, I wish this person had a shop! I've been looking for something like this for ages!"
What is the range of price points at Material since everything is for sale?
The things in the show start from $30-$35 and they go up to a huge Laurie Simmons [piece] -- the largest picture Laurie Simmons has ever done called Magnum Opus, which is incredible, surreal. I have Maria Pergay. It's a real variation. But just because there's something in the store you can't buy, there are other things you can buy [and] these things just add to the experience. I can't buy a $100,000 painting! Juergen Teller, Glenn Ligon, Carlo Mollino, Hamidou Maiga, Laurie Simmons, West African textiles...when have these things ever been in the same room? What I hope people get out of this is a fulfillment of an idea of things that are off-beat actually sitting quite nicely next to each other. And also, the clothes that are featured in this -- people get to see the clothes a lot more close up than they would have ordinarily. It's only happening because of what you said: this is an assemblage. It's a 21st century view of how to see things.
Material runs from February 9 through March 4 and is located at Salon 94 Freemans, 1 Freeman Alley, New York.
Below: A PAPERTV interview with Mr. Mickey and Olowu at the designer's S/S '12 presentation.